Whether it’s the swarms of people making their daily commute in and out of New York City, the thought of beaches along the shoreline, mass crowds flooding casinos in Atlantic City, schools, traffic jams, shopping centers, or restaurants, New Jersey is directly correlated with one thing -- a booming population of people. After doing some research, it was no surprise that the State of New Jersey ranks #1 in population density amongst the 50 states. According to the 2010 United States Census, New Jersey is home to 8,791,894 people, which means 1195.5 people per square mile.

Despite the high volumes of people and the highest rank of population density, New Jersey is ranked 49th out of all 50 states for volunteer rate in the country. Between 2007 and 2009, the average volunteer rates in the United States ranged from 19.0 to 44.2 percent. New Jersey’s statistics fall substantially low at 20.8 %. I had never stopped to think about the correlation between a population and its volunteers before. But with more people comes more of, well, everything; more children, schools, homes, food, waste, etc. And as most societal elements are part of a cyclical equation, all of these components have a direct impact on communities. They mean more community needs, proper resource allocation, stabilized economy, effective politics, and, most often overlooked, more civic engagement. With all these people, things easily get lost in the shuffle. Social responsibility, corporate service, moral obligation, with over 8 million it’s fairly easy for everyone to point to the person next to them and turn the other way.

The value of volunteerism is so imperative to the state of New Jersey.  It is the driving force behind so many positive accomplishments in our communities that we take for granted.  It is the behind the scenes efforts to help youths graduate to the next level of education, the mechanisms that clean waterways and beaches, it keeps our seniors active, social, and healthy, it feeds empty stomachs and keeps families together through meal services.  It is the voice that advocates the rights and appreciation of those who cannot speak for themselves; our children, our environment, and even our animals. Volunteerism is the hidden cushion in our society that provides aid for those riddled by unforeseen circumstances, gives options to those who feel option-less, and gives hope to those who feel hopeless.

Sign Up for E-News

Jersey Cares is a nonprofit organization that is working diligently to fight these statistics throughout the state of New Jersey.  Jersey Cares works to meet compelling community needs by encouraging civic engagement and recruiting volunteers. In collaboration with service agencies, corporations, and civic-minded individuals, Jersey Cares develops and operates programs through effective volunteer leadership and management practices.  Part of the Hands on Network, an international alliance of volunteer catalysts, Jersey Cares promotes civic engagement and opportunities for individuals to make a difference.

The people associated with this organization are compassionate and real, drawn by the constant pull of wanting to do their part and the determination to actually execute their plans. Resources and time aren’t viewed as limitations; they are just part of the project, pieces of the puzzle that, once put into place, make a beautiful picture. Dedication and enthusiasm replace any false sense of distant moral obligation that classically forces people into some haphazard attempt to do their part. All it takes is one spark; one defining effort on behalf of a hardworking group and the domino effect does the rest. This energy and commitment is intrinsically passed down to volunteers serving the projects, and then to the individuals whose lives are first-handedly being changed. In the upcoming month of April, Jersey Cares has over one hundred projects scheduled ranging from tutoring programs in Newark, beach sweeps in Atlantic City, to pet therapy in Morristown. With an organization like this, the success they have found is of no surprise.  Jersey Cares hopes to move New Jersey from the bottom of the national volunteer rankings to the top.  With constant efforts to spread and diversify projects around all of the counties in the state, Jersey Cares has a plan to give every community in New Jersey the opportunity to do their part. Not only have they been working to broaden geographic and demographic efforts, they have also stayed focused in offering a full array of projects to help meet all community needs, and not just a select few.  Youth-based projects, adult literacy, hunger and homeless, animal activities, environmental sustainability, and senior projects are only some of the project goals at Jersey Cares.

With National Volunteer Week occurring this week, April 10th-16th, it is the perfect time to let these low statistics dance around your head. Maybe it’s just my natural disposition to try to prove doubters wrong, but I find something incredibly motivating behind such negative statistics. There’s something within all of us that is stirred when the odds aren’t in our favor, either for better or for worse. Let it be for better, let it spark your inner hero to combat something that is deep within in all of us, we know is the right thing to do. 

I am proud to be a resident of New Jersey and I am confident that we are all capable of doing our part and actively engaging in our communities. To give is to also receive, for it is through giving to others that we ultimately give to ourselves.  Take this week to do something for your community and for yourself; give back to your community, to your environment, to all the things that give all of us so much.  Celebrate being a volunteer and make your efforts louder than the statistics sitting on paper. Listed on the website below are Jersey Cares projects still looking for volunteers for National Volunteer Week, April 10th-16th, 2011. Signing up is easy and flexible; visit www.jerseycares.org to sign up at a time and location that is convenient for you.

 Source: 2010 Census