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Branstad aims to make Iowa national community service leader

BY RISHABH R. JAIN | SEPTEMBER 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds raised the bar on community service in Iowa and called upon Iowans to become the leader in volunteering by 2015.

The Volunteer Iowa: A Call to Service initiative aims to increase the supply, demand, and retention, while also working closely with the private sector to endorse community service.

With an average of 38 percent of the state people doing their bit, Iowa had the second highest volunteer rate in the country, next to Utah’s 44.5 percent, last year.

“Volunteerism is an integral part to the state’s future and well-being,” Branstad said in a press release. “Our objective for the ‘Call to Service’ is to increase the number of Iowans who are volunteering as well as the number of hours that they serve. Just as we want to become the healthiest state in the nation and have the best schools, I know Iowa can lead the nation in volunteerism as well.”

According to statistics provided by Volunteer in America officials, ambitions for the top position seem achievable if the state follows Iowa City’s volunteering trend, whose rate is 51 percent – third highest in the nation of midsize cities.

Patti Fields, the vice president for community impact and engagement for United Way of Johnson County, said the University of Iowa plays an important role in Iowa City’s high ranking.

“I think there is strong current of service and understanding for the need for service to a community at the University of Iowa,” she said.

There is a strong need to increase volunteering efforts, she said, because more than 4,000 children are on a waiting list for mentors and a dozen cities need volunteer firefighters, among other types of volunteers needed.

“Why should we do more?” she said. “Because we can.”

Dance Marathon, a marvel of volunteering at the UI, aims to take on more projects and get bigger.

“As the Dance Marathon takes on more projects, it requires more and more hours from volunteers,” UI Dance Marathon adviser Courtney Bond said. “So we look to our student leaders to take on extra hours and ask others in the community to do the same.”

Branstand’s office is working with the Iowa Commission on Volunteering Service, which is in the process drafting the final plan for the initiative, and it will be submitted to the Governor’s Office next month.

Adam Lounsbury, the executive director of the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, said an important part of its strategy is to increase volunteer retention.

“If you think about the volunteering industry, it is like a leaky bucket,” he said. “About a third of volunteers abandon their volunteering experience during the course of a year. The easiest way to increase volunteerism is to slow the loss.”

With only a quarter of the volunteers not returning each year, he said, Iowa ranks No. 1 in volunteer retention.

The initiative is driven by the private sector, and Lounsbury said private-sector involvement is integral — only 1 percent of people participate in volunteering activities at their workplace.

“The connection between the strength of a community and volunteering is very clear,” he said. “There are hundreds of studies show this correlation, and the more engaged people are, the better off the community is and the better off the state is.”


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