To the Editor:
More than 1.4 million people in New Jersey give their time and talent to nonprofit organizations each year, offering a whopping 215 million hours valued at $5.1 billion annually. Indeed, volunteers give nonprofit organizations an army of support to provide important programs and services to those in need.
However, the numbers are deceiving. New Jersey is nearly at rock bottom for volunteerism, ranking 45th nationally in per capita hours volunteered, and that number is declining.
The growth of online communities, an over-scheduled and over-worked society, an increasingly transient youth and dwindling investment in nonprofits are just a few reasons driving the decline.
Here in New Jersey, as human service agencies transition from contract to fee-for-service funding for programs eligible for Medicaid, our already limited resources are strained even further. Volunteers are needed now more than ever before to bridge the gap in services that this new funding model creates.
There is an endless list of ways people help the community. Volunteers run youth sports leagues, fund-raise and provide support at schools, civic and religious organizations. They help elect government officials, house the homeless, feed the hungry, mentor those with a desire to learn, design websites, manage special events, post and tweet and much more.
Volunteering is a great way to meet people. Young people volunteer to build their resume in many fields. Organizations use volunteer opportunities as team building experiences. Some volunteer to support a personal cause. Others do it to stay active and involved.
How can nonprofits engage more volunteers in these challenging times? Last year at Alternatives, Inc., we experienced an uptick in volunteers despite the decline experienced by many other nonprofits. We believe strong relationships with our community partners and trustees is driving our good fortune.
One trustee first became involved with Alternatives after participating in Leadership Somerset, a county -sponsored program, where she and her group developed a cooking program for our clients. That inspired her to join our board and engage her work colleagues in several new projects. Another trustee organized teams from his company to paint and landscape homes for clients. A personal friend who owns his own marketing firm donated graphic design, video production and strategic planning to Alternatives, literally donating thousands of dollars in services.
Next month, Alternatives will honor outstanding volunteers at our annual gala. It’s important to recognize the contribution of these individuals and organizations, who add value and resources when they are so desperately needed.
New Jersey and Alternatives need more volunteers. Just one hour a week can make a difference. The people we help are important members of the communities we call home and the return on our investment of time benefits us all.
President of Alternatives, Inc., which provides housing, programs and comprehensive services to individuals and families with special needs in Central New Jersey.
For more information visit www.alternativesinc.org.