By Brandon Doerrer
This article first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle
A recent study from The Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives has found that volunteering, both in terms of the number of volunteers and the amount of time they spend volunteering, is flourishing in Ulster County despite a decline on the national level.
“Volunteerism builds on itself; once people start realizing that their voice isn’t just wasted, they’re more likely to volunteer.” -New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez
The national percentage marked a 13 year low since the BLS began tracking volunteerism in 2002. Volunteers in the county registered an annual median of 133 hours, double the national median and nearly four times the statewide median.
A number of potential causes behind the decline of volunteerism are explored in the study, including a shift over time in the ideas of what constitutes volunteering as well as the financial stresses nonprofit organizations are experiencing. The United States ranked fifth in volunteerism globally in 2015.
New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez attributed higher levels of volunteerism in Ulster County to active communities with supportive local governments.
“I think the people who choose to live in Ulster County are very engaged,” he said. “What I’ve seen in the village and town [of New Paltz] is that they make space available for free for local volunteer groups. The municipalities make it as easy as possible for people to start and maintain these groups. Volunteerism builds on itself; once people start realizing that their voice isn’t just wasted, that their input is taken seriously by municipal leaders, they’re more likely to volunteer.”
The study also explored statistics about volunteerism within Ulster County, including that women are more likely to volunteer than men at 53 percent to 40 percent and that college-educated adults are more likely to volunteer than those who did not graduate college at 71 percent to 39 percent.
Bettez also spoke about the high number of volunteer positions available within New Paltz, most of which entail serving on a board or committee. This notion reflects the study, which states that serving on a board of directors was the most common volunteer activity, followed by serving on a committee.
Issues regarding volunteerism are being faced in Ulster County as well. According to the study, there is a lack of Spanish-speaking volunteers as well as a desperate need for volunteers in fire departments and rescue squads. Co-author of the study and professor in the teaching and learning department at SUNY New Paltz Sue Books attributes a lack of volunteers in these two areas to the intense commitment required as well as the fact that these departments rely so heavily on volunteers to function.
“I think it’s very demanding work,” she said. “It’s very time consuming and the training is significant. That’s people’s fear, that it’s going to be all consuming. People shy away, but if they knew more they would not be so reluctant.”