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SHERIDAN — Imagine a world without volunteers. Housing projects for the poor, meal delivery to the elderly, summer programs for the young and even ticket sales to cultural events would suffer — or not exist. Volunteers contribute thousands of hours to hundreds of programs and organizations around the state.
Volunteers should be thanked every day, but just in case, this is their week. National Volunteer Week runs through Saturday, and it’s a good time to tip the ol’ hat, raise a toast and generally make a big to-do in honor of those who make lives brighter with their service and hard work.
“Even in a smaller, rural state like Wyoming, there are countless social service agencies and nonprofits that heavily rely on volunteers to provide specialized services to people in need,” Clinton Harper, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with ServeWyoming, said.
ServeWyoming promotes volunteer programs in each Wyoming community through funding and development efforts, according to its website. In 2012, ServeWyoming mobilized more than 10,000 people who served 14,653 hours. In 2011, 29.9 percent of Wyoming residents (126,800 people) volunteered in some capacity, ranking the state 17th in the nation for volunteerism, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In Sheridan, volunteers participate in myriad organizations. The Senior Center utilizes more than 450 volunteers who help keep it open seven days per week, 365 days per year. Schools, food banks, youth programs, housing projects, art centers, the hospital and more all rely on volunteers.
“It brings me satisfaction — I would say godly satisfaction — and also there’s a need. There’s a lot of needy people and if we can help needy people, I think it’s a blessing,” Don Knievel, a volunteer at the Senior Center, said. Knievel started volunteering in 2007, specifically requesting to start a reading program for the visually impaired. He serves as a senior companion and delivers meals more than 40 hours per week.
Jacky Jones also volunteers at the Senior Center. She sings with the SheridanAires and helps with the Senior Players. For Jones, volunteering has provided opportunities to try new experiences and do activities she loves while helping others.
“It’s very rewarding,” Jones said. “You can always make room for the things that you want to do.”
People volunteer for a variety of reasons, according to Nancy McKenzie, volunteer coordinator for the Senior Center and board member of the ServeWyoming Commission, a body of leaders appointed by the governor to support volunteer opportunities in Wyoming.
“It’s just really people helping people,” Mckenzie said. “By helping one person, it helps that person, and it helps the community. It helps Wyoming, it helps the country and the world. We just have no idea how far reaching our efforts go.”
Volunteering is fun and helps people meet like-minded people, McKenzie said. It gives people something to do, gives them purpose and a way to give back. It makes them feel good about themselves and produces tangible results — food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, friendship for the lonely – that can be seen and celebrated.
Volunteering offers economic benefits, too. Independent Sector, a network for nonprofits, found the estimated dollar value of volunteers in Wyoming to be approximately $19.54 per hour, meaning they save organizations thousands of dollars per year.
“To know that you are making somebody else’s day a little brighter,” McKenzie said. “What’s better than that?”
• For more information on volunteer opportunities in Sheridan, visit www.servewyoming.org or call (866) 737-8304.