City volunteer programs benefit citizens, community

City of Vancouver volunteer Cal Clark cleans grounds at the Vancouver Tennis Center.

By Leslee Jaquette

Volunteers make things happen in the City of Vancouver.

Last year 10 city departments benefited from 56,000 hours of volunteer service that would be equal to about $1,240,000 in wages. In the Parks and Recreation department alone, senior volunteers donated 13,600 hours, planning and leading hikes and travel trips around the Northwest.

What do volunteers get for all this community service? According to Hailey Heath, volunteer coordinator, they get value in their lives. As a result of volunteering and “getting out more,” for example, one senior was thrilled to discover her blood pressure and cholesterol had returned to normal. Two pairs of volunteers even got married.

While volunteers’ experiences may not always be dramatic life-changers, they certainly affect individuals’ and the community’s quality of life. These days finding a volunteer program and applying for it on the city website is increasingly easy. In addition, new programs join the line-up on a regular basis. Heath invites all ages to look at both on-going and “one-time” volunteer jobs to see what interests them or taps into their abilities.

“The best thing about volunteering is giving back to the community and realizing that it takes everyone working collectively to have a successful, vibrant community,” says Heath of the 5,000 or so current city volunteers.  “Besides, the people volunteers work with are the best people in the world!”

Volunteer Today

 
Volunteer population increases

Although the city only started to track volunteers in 2012, the number jumped from 50,000 hours that year to 56,000 hours in 2013. Whether that increase relates to more education about programs or that the website is easier to use, says Heath, is a matter of conjecture. But her goal goes beyond simply recruiting more volunteers. The challenge is to match the best person to the task and the way to do that is to build relationships to identify skills.

“What’s great is when people have an idea what they want to do and can be flexible,” observes Heath. “The best way to recruit is through word-of mouth. When our volunteers have a good time, they share a positive message.”

New programs offer more volunteer opportunities

Volunteers of all ages are invited to peruse the website or call Heath to check into volunteer opportunities. Three new programs are on the horizon. VolunTeens is a new program designed to help students find volunteer service work, which is often necessary to graduate from school. Older adults may be interested in this program as they help grandchildren identify and commit to volunteer service appropriate for this requirement.

Another new program, SMART (Speed Monitor Awareness Radar Trailer), is manned by volunteers who use city transportation to move an electronic speed indicator to a different neighborhood every week. Deployed in teams of two, volunteers take the equipment out on Monday and return it to the city on Friday.

The new Adopt-A-Road litter removal program is scheduled to start in July. Volunteers will commit to picking up debris on a mile or more of roadway.

Popular hiking, travel programs serve as volunteer model

Recreation Specialist Becky Anderson describes the Parks and Recreation 50-plus hiking and travel programs as an on-going success because volunteers plan and drive hundreds of activities each year. The trip planners do all the research, make reservations and scheduling while the trip drivers get the schedules and plan the routes for city-owned vans.

“These volunteers serve as a model throughout the city due to their dedication, commitment, safety, leadership skills and good customer service,” says Anderson. “We are grateful for these people and we couldn’t do any of the city’s volunteer-based programs without volunteers like this.”

To apply for volunteer programs visit: www.cityofvancouver.us/volunteer

Hailey Heath, Volunteer Coordinator, 360-487-8316; Hailey.Heath@cityofvancouver.us

Becky Anderson, Recreation Specialist Parks and Recreation, 360-487-7084; becky.anderson@cityofvancouver.us; www.vanparksrec.org.