Volunteering hit highest level since 2003

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Despite the worse financial crisis since the 1930s, more than 63 million people in the United States volunteered their services in 2009 -- 1.6 million more than in 2008 and the biggest rise since 2003.

A woman conveys her gratitude to a volunteer distributing free hats and scarves during New York's largest Christmas Day Celebration for New Yorkers in need at the YMCA in Brooklyn, New York December 25, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

The Corporation for National & Community Services (CNCS), an independent government agency, said volunteers heeding President Barack Obama’s call to serve their communities contributed 8.1 billion hours of services which is equal to about $169 billion.

“As the economic crisis affected many individuals personally and sent shockwaves across the country, Americans reached out to help through service,” the CNCS said in a report, which can found at

It added that the rise in volunteers was fueled mainly by married women aged 45-54 and people working full time who mentored and tutored youths, provided job training and transport, fed the needy, helped the homeless and provided many other services.

“Through service, volunteers are supporting the vulnerable populations hit hardest by the economy and helping to create a stronger more stable future,” the report added.

Rates for volunteering, performing unpaid activities for or through an organization, were up 1.1 percent among African Americas, 1.6 percent among women and 0.9 percent among jobless adults.

Average volunteer rates for 2009 range from 34.4 percent for parents and 30.1 percent for women to 22 percent for young adults and 21.6 percent for millennials, people born in 1982 and after.

Patrick Corvington, the CEO of CNCS, credited Obama’s call for people to become engaged with their communities for the increase in volunteering.

“Americans are following that call. But I think the important thing to remember is that it is part of the American spirit of generosity. What is amazing about this country is that people turn toward problems, rather than away from them,” he said in an interview.

Among states Utah led the country with the highest rate of volunteerism, followed by Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Alaska. At the opposite end of the scale New York, Nevada and New Jersey had the lowest level of volunteerism.

In large cities the volunteer rate was highest in Minneapolis, Portland and Salt Lake City and lowest in Miami, New York and Las Vegas, according to figures based a data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Corvington believes people want to find ways to get engaged and make a difference.

“We fundamentally believe volunteerism can have a real impact on communities but volunteerism can also have a real impact on the person doing the volunteering,” he explained.

“People are finding that beautiful nexus between making a difference and being changed.”