Volunteerism rises in U.S.; Utah top state

Alaska ranks fifth in study; social network in rural areas credited

Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2006

SALT LAKE CITY - When 583 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina arrived in Utah last year, there were so many people here eager to help that the assistance hot lines had to be shut down after getting 7,000 calls the first day.

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That's 12 volunteers per evacuee.

So it wasn't a surprise when on Monday, a federal volunteer agency released a study that showed Utah residents volunteer more often and give more of their time than people in any other state.

"Anytime there's an event, incident or ongoing volunteer opportunity and we make a request to the public they respond," said Josh Pederson, the director of the Utah Food Bank and who also oversees a volunteer information line.

Pederson said he sees Utah's volunteerism when major events happen - such as the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in 2002 or the Katrina evacuation - as well as every week when church groups, corporate groups, individuals and families fill opportunities to feed the homeless or plant trees.

The study was conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency with such programs as Senior Corps and AmeriCorps, and tracked volunteer efforts for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Some 48 percent of Utah residents 16 and older served as volunteers between 2003 and 2005. Nebraska was second with 42.8 percent, followed by Minnesota with 40.7 percent, Iowa with 39.2 percent and Alaska with 38.9 percent.

The report said that more than 65.4 million Americans performed service of some kind in 2005 alone, compared with 59.8 million in 2002.

"We seem to be having a renaissance of civic engagement," CNCS Chief Executive David Eisner said in a telephone interview.

Eisner credits the increase to a call for American service by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and to a sense of duty stirred along the Gulf Coast by hurricane destruction in recent years.

The survey tracked the volunteer rates of participating individuals, their ages, hours served, gender and race or ethnicity. It also looked at where people volunteered and what types of activities they performed. Data for the survey were collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Eisner said one of the most interesting things about the study is what drives people to volunteer. Even among the top five states in the study there is a wide range of reasons, he said.

In Alaska and Nebraska, the primary force seems to be the social network of people living in rural communities, Eisner said.

"In Utah, there's clearly a faith-based connection," he said.

The survey found more than 63 percent of Utah residents linked their volunteer service in 2003-2005 to religious organizations; nationally, 34.8 percent cited religion in 2005. It is estimated that at least 70 percent of Utah residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which stresses helping the needy as part of its mission.

"Latter-day Saints believe that the Christian doctrinal directive to 'love one another' should have practical application," said LDS church spokeswoman Kim Farah.

Pederson said faith definitely plays a role in volunteering in Utah, but said it spans all of the state's religious groups.

On the second Saturday of every month, a group from Mount Tabor Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City comes to volunteer at the food bank, he said, and he recently attended a training session with Utah's Congregation Kol Ami held to incorporate volunteering into their bar mitzvah ceremonies. Youth groups in the LDS church gather every Wednesday night and almost weekly engage in volunteerism, Pederson said.

Utah topped the charts in nearly every category. Besides having the highest percentage of volunteers, its residents gave the highest number of service hours, 96, compared with the national average of 50 hours.

Those over age 65 gave the most time, with 51.8 percent serving as volunteers. But young Utah residents also took top honors, with 45.4 percent of those ages 16-24 volunteering and 62.9 percent of college students performing service work.

Nationally, the study found that women volunteered more often than men, married people did more volunteer work, and blacks volunteered more frequently than any other nonwhite group. The most committed age group comprised Americans 35-44 years old.

Most Americans - 34.8 percent - said they volunteered primarily through religious organizations, with 26.2 percent of volunteers giving time to educational or youth-related organizations.

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