Volunteers priceless to community

Consider lending time to make a difference

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  • | 11:59 a.m. May 15, 2013
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
  • Opinion
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With summer just around the corner, it’s a perfect time to consider lending our time, talents and energy to making a difference in our community. Across Central Florida, volunteers not only improve the lives of our neighbors in need – they also create a tremendous economic impact.

As Central Florida’s most comprehensive health and human services charity, Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW) sees this firsthand. Through our Volunteer Resource Center, we match thousands of groups and individuals with more than 200 nonprofit agencies throughout Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. Participants help with projects that are meaningful to them and change our neighbors’ lives for the better – like serving meals to hungry Central Floridians, hosting baby showers for families in need and doing free tax preparation for low-income households.

Little by little, the numbers add up. In 2012, HFUW volunteers accumulated more than 59,000 hours across Central Florida. HFUW organized nearly 23,000 hours of group volunteer work benefiting partner agencies like the Salvation Army, Harbor House and Edgewood Children’s Ranch, among many others. Volunteers and interns also provided about 37,000 hours of administrative support at HFUW offices. Each hour is worth $22.14, according to Independent Sector, a leadership network for nonprofits – which translates to more than $1.3 million in donated time.

It’s a stunning amount. And every hour allows nonprofits to have a greater reach – whether it’s giving homeless families a safe place to sleep, mentoring at-risk students or empowering victims of domestic abuse. Stuffing envelopes isn’t glamorous, but it means paid staff can focus on providing vital services. An outside team can accomplish in an afternoon what might otherwise take weeks for a small nonprofit staff. Sometimes, the money saved through donated time literally allows an organization to keep its lights on.

What’s more, such service can generate long-term dividends. HFUW’s work focuses on prevention through four key priorities: building safe communities through education, improving financial stability, developing healthy children and families, and alleviating hunger and homelessness. Research shows that $1 spent on prevention saves $7 on intervention – and volunteers help make it possible.

What does it take to make an impact? The most important requirement is caring. It’s something anyone can possess, no matter their age or walk of life: college students, parents and retirees … along with teams from religious groups, civic clubs and businesses. Some people offer specialized skills; others simply carve a few hours from their Saturdays to help their neighbors. Anyone can make a difference. You just need to care.

For local nonprofits, volunteers are priceless – and that’s especially clear when we look at the literal value of their service. If you’re already involved, know that your contributions matter. And if you’re looking for a place to start, visit the Volunteer Resource Center at hfuw.org to find a cause you’re passionate about. Your efforts are appreciated more than you can imagine.

Traci Blue is director of the Heart of Florida United Way Volunteer Resource Center. To learn about volunteer opportunities, visit hfuw.org