- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

The spirit of volunteerism is thriving in the heartland but not so much on the coasts.

Midwesterners are more likely to volunteer their time than people elsewhere in the United States, according to a government study released today. The highest rates were in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, where more than four in 10 adults volunteered.

“It’s really about Minneapolis’ commitment to the quality of life,” said Michael Weber, president and chief executive of Volunteers of America of Minnesota. “If you look at the entire society, it says we will give back to the community and take care of our society.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency, used Census Bureau data to determine the share of people age 16 and older who volunteered their time in the previous year. The study provides three-year averages, for 2004 through 2006, for the 50 largest metropolitan areas.

Minneapolis-St. Paul was followed at the top by Salt Lake City; Austin, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; and Seattle.

Las Vegas had the lowest volunteer rate at 14.4 percent. It was joined at the bottom by Miami, New York, Virginia Beach and Riverside, Calif.

Nationally, 26.7 percent of adults in 2006 said they had volunteered in the previous year. That compares with 28.8 percent in 2005 and 20.4 percent in 1989. More than one-third of the people who volunteered in 2005 stopped in 2006.

“Volunteering has a leaky bucket,” said Robert Grimm, an author of the report. “Many times people drop out because the activities are not challenging enough or they’re not substantial enough.”

In Minneapolis, Mr. Weber said his organization works hard to make sure activities are well-organized, meaningful to the community and rewarding to volunteers.

“The person goes away saying, ‘I feel good, I made a difference today,’ ” Mr. Weber said.

The study said several demographic and social factors appear to contribute to higher volunteer rates:

c Short commutes to work, which provide more time to volunteer.

c Home ownership, which promotes attachment to the community.

c High education levels, which increase civic involvement.

c High concentrations of nonprofit organizations providing opportunities to volunteer.

Volunteering can have a “positive, substantial impact on the life of a youth” or it can help an older person remain at home instead of moving into a nursing home, said Mr. Grimm, director of research and policy development for the federal agency.

Les Kuivanen of Minneapolis volunteers at an elementary school with other retirees from the manufacturing company Honeywell International. The retired engineer said volunteering is more rewarding when the activity matches his skills. He and other retirees teach students about electricity and magnetism. He said it is important for young students to learn about science and technology, maybe steering their interest toward a future career choice.

“I wanted to volunteer because I wanted give back,” he said. “It’s fun to golf and fish and hunt, and I do all that. But I wanted to do something that I thought was needed, to help others.”

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