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The Great American Expedition Sweeps—Enter Now

Tom Nelson: National Conference on Volunteering and Service, Panel on Boomer Engagement

Given the research finding that the overall average time commitment of volunteers has fallen, it becomes even more important to utilize them efficiently.

At the National Conference on Service and Volunteerism a year ago, a moderator at one session asked the audience how many engaged volunteers in their organizations. Nearly everyone raised a hand. A substantial percentage also raised their hands when asked whether they had seen a recent influx of volunteers. But when the audience was asked, how many wanted more volunteers, no hands were raised.

Unless we take careful steps to develop and sustain greater capacity, we’re not going to fulfill the promise of a new era of service.

Those are lessons we’ve learned. Let me tell you how we’re applying some of these lessons in Create the Good, especially by providing flexible opportunities and promoting self-directed service.

One hundred twenty thousand people have joined the Create the Good Network. At www.createthegood.org, we offer: 1) a search for opportunities in your community 2) access to toolkits on how to help others and 3) the capacity to post a service event to recruit more people to help.

To help create a network of people giving back together, CreateTheGood also offers ways for people to connect in their community, as well as through online groups such as Facebook and Twitter.

At CreateTheGood.org, people find materials and resources to create their own activities. These materials range from ideas that might take five minutes to carry out to tool kits that provide the information needed to weatherize the home of a friend or neighbor, to make someone’s home safer or more comfortable, or to prepare for a hurricane or other emergency.

With these tool kits, an individual who wants to serve can help one person or organize a group to help many.

Here are a few examples of how this can work on a large scale.

In Virginia, our AARP State Office involved several thousand people in a project weatherizing people’s homes. An effort that began as self-directed turned into self-organizing, with terrific results. The quiet heroes of this story included one dedicated Create the Good volunteer who helped to make it all happen, several members of Americorps, skilled people from a technical college, and a home nursing group.

These people went to the homes of neighbors and friends in a rural area, asking residents what they needed in the way of caulking or storm windows or checking chimney flues. More than three dozen homes have been weatherized in an area where homes are far apart and assistance like this very hard to come by.

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