Volunteering provides lasting benefits for communities

Courtesy of San Juan Mountains Association

Volunteers gathered in September 2011 for a National Public Lands Day project in Sand Canyon in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management. Volunteers completed trail work and installed signs and were treated to a special lunch.

In 2008, 61.8 million Americans contributed 8 billion hours of volunteer service worth an estimated $162 billion. This is a pretty impressive statistic. Iím sure that our local communities have contributed significantly to this number.

So why do people volunteer their time?

Volunteers donít necessarily have the time, but they have the heart. When people share time and talents, they strengthen communities, improve lives, connect to others and transform their own lives.

Volunteering is about giving time, energy and skills with no strings attached. Unlike many things in life, there is a choice involved in volunteering. As a volunteer, you have made a decision to help on your own accord, free from pressure to act from others.

Volunteers express a sense of achievement and motivation, and this ultimately is generated from the desire and enthusiasm to help.

Sometimes volunteers are regarded as do-gooders, and those that hold that view also assume that one person can never make a difference. It may be true that no one person can solve all the worldís problems, but what you can do is make that little corner of the world where you live just a little bit better.

Volunteering can lead you to new experiences that might help you out of a rut and lead you to new interests or hobbies. Volunteers have the opportunity to learn new skills. Many volunteer opportunities involve training such as data collection, construction skills, computer skills, cooking, organizing, first aid and natural-resource management to name a few.

You will experience real-life situations that can help you grow as a person. Volunteering can actually boost your career opportunities, too. According to a study, 73 percent of employers would recruit a candidate with volunteering experience over one without; 94 percent of employers believe that volunteering can add to skills; 94 percent of employees who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited either by getting their first job, improving their salary or being promoted.

Now, volunteers can add health benefits to the list of pluses. People who volunteer say they feel less stressed. They report smoking and drinking less alcohol, too. So, if these are vices you are dealing with, get out and volunteer.

Volunteering can be a source of individual joy, and everyone can use a little more joy in their lives. Volunteering has been known to combat depression, too. Because of the activity and interaction with others, it promotes production of endorphins.

With all of these benefits, letís explore ways to get involved as a volunteer on our public lands through the San Juan Mountains Association.

SJMA offers a wide range of programs, with training, to engage a variety of interests. There are cultural and historical programs that involve monitoring and documentation. There are wilderness programs that involve hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, GPS use, photography, monitoring and public contact. Conservation education programs involve teaching youths the benefits of being outdoors and enjoying the natural environment. Or you can lend your professional and interpersonal skills and become a board director.

There are projects for those who want to provide elbow grease for their volunteer experience. National Public Lands Day, National Trails Day, Colorado Trail work days, to name just a few, allow volunteers to get down and dirty while improving the trails and public lands they love.

Hereís how you can get involved. San Juan Mountains Association will host a volunteer orientation from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Mancos Library for those interested in SJMA programs or just to learn more about SJMA. Call me at 385-1310, or visit www.sjma.org for more information.

Kathe Hayes is volunteer program director with San Juan Mountains Association. SJMA is a nonprofit dedicated to public land stewardship and education. SJMA partners with the San Juan National Forest, the Bureau of Land Managementís Tres Rios Field Office and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, in addition to other organizations in Southwest Colorado.

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