Helping is on the rise

April 06, 1997


Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Clarkie, as he is affectionately known, makes his rounds at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center twice a week.

Patients there know him by his trademark clown bow tie, which is as wide as his slight shoulders and always decorated for the season. On this day, the tie is covered with Easter stickers and strung with multi-colored lights, powered by a battery pack that he hides in his front shirt pocket.

Clark Crawford, 78, of Hagerstown, has been visiting patients at the center for 13 years.

Even a stroke several years ago hasn't slowed him down. Except now, using a wheelchair, he's beginning to look more like one of his regular patients than a volunteer.


"These fellas here mean as much to me as I mean to them," Crawford says.

As President Clinton and other national leaders prepare for a summit in Philadelphia late this month to encourage community service, Crawford and tens of millions of Americans are already volunteering large chunks of their free time.

National surveys show that volunteerism is enjoying unprecedented popularity.

In Washington County, volunteerism also seems to be at an all-time high, said Kathleen Vogt, executive director of United Way of Washington County.

"I think, locally, Washington County as always been a leader in volunteer efforts," Vogt said. "It's kind of like Washington County's patent."

But volunteer coordinators in other parts of the Tri-State area say the need for volunteers is growing faster than the number of people willing to do charity work.

"I find that the volunteers who have traditionally helped United Way are being pulled by many more sources. Busy people are being asked to divide their time even more," said Cynthia Hawbaker, executive director of United Way of Franklin County (Pa.)

People with children are being called upon for school activities and nonprofit agencies are trying to make money go further by asking for more volunteers, she said.

Volunteers do a wide range of jobs, including caring for terminally ill people, sorting clothing donations and doing office work like typing and answering phones.

Nonprofit agencies say they try to match volunteers with their interests.

Getting a good match

At Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Eastern Panhandle, someone interested in mentoring a young person must go through a six to eight week training period.

It's important to get a good match or the volunteer might quit, said Executive Director Ann Paonessa.

Washington County is lucky to have community leaders who are willing to set the tone for volunteerism, Vogt said.

"We've got that hometown spirit," she said.

The younger generation has stepped up to carry the torch.

John Canfield, a sixth-grader at Boonsboro Middle School, recently gave $11 to United Way that he earned by roller skating a hundred laps, Vogt said.

Canfield wasn't doing it to get credit at school. He was just doing what he thought was right.

"He does represent the future for volunteers," Vogt said.

Even though people's lives seem to be busier than ever, they always have time to help others, she said.

"That's an outlet where people really feel that's one part of their life they can control," she said.

New trends

Changes in self-centered attitudes, a newfound corporate interest in community service and volunteer organizations' efforts to adapt to new trends have led unprecedented numbers of Americans to volunteer, according to surveys by the Gallup Organization and Princeton Survey Research Associates.

Since 1977 the number of people saying they were involved in activities helping the poor, sick or elderly more than doubled to 54 percent in 1995 from 26 percent.

A survey by the philanthropic coalition Independent Sector found the percentage of adult volunteers in all activities has fluctuated between 45 percent and 54 percent since 1987, with about 49 percent, or 93 million Americans, volunteering in 1995.

More like home

At the VA Center, about 650 volunteers make the hospital seem more like a home.

"They put the human touch into patient care," said Dottie Hough, who trains the volunteers.

Hough sees new faces each time she conducts monthly orientation sessions.

They come from a four-state area and many are veterans themselves.

Others, like Crawford, just have an interest in paying something back to those who served their country.

Most are older, ages 55 to 90.

United Way of Jefferson County, W.Va., has also seen a surge in volunteerism, said Executive Director Marie Beirne.

Last fall, Beirne organized the county's first ever "Day of Caring," where more than 400 volunteers worked on more than a dozen projects at local charities.

"It was so energizing and so exciting to see," Beirne said. "People are going back to a sense of community and helping right here."

But United Way of Berkeley and Morgan counties needs more volunteers, said Executive Director David Ranck.

Eleven of 28 nonprofit agencies listed volunteer recruitment as a top need on a recent survey, he said.

People are becoming more aware of the importance of volunteering, but many simply don't have the time, said Linda Mueller, executive director of the American Red Cross, Berkeley County chapter.

"We always have a shortage. It's just a constant effort," Mueller said.

The county's rapid growth is increasing the need.

For newcomers, volunteering can be a chance to meet friends. For retired people, it can keep them active, she said.

"People need to know there's more than nine to five every day," Vogt said.

The Herald-Mail Articles