Volunteering — there's an app for that

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WALLA WALLA — So you say you want to volunteer?

According to the federal agency charged with tracking such things, nearly 27 percent of Americans did some kind of good deed within 7.85 billion total volunteer hours in 2012.

That equals 64.5 million men and women volunteering through an established agency at least once between 2011 and 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Women volunteer more than men, people age 35 to 44 are most likely to raise their hands at an opportunity, and whites continue to volunteer at a higher rate than any other ethnicity.

Hoping to tap into that do-good spirit, United Way of Walla Walla County has an app — sort of — for that.

More than a third of Washington residents volunteer, making the state the ninth most civic-minded in the nation. Almost 2 million Washington residents put in 223.8 million hours for a value of nearly $5 billion in 2011, said the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees Senior Corps and AmeriCorps, among other federal volunteer efforts.

Whether in rural, suburban or urban settings, Washingtonians volunteer more often than the national average in educational and religious settings, the agency found.

Walla Walla is rich with such volunteers, including those who have given years of service to an organization of choice, said Liz McDevitt, executive director of United Way here. But volunteerism of today for many people has changed, she said.

Overall, people no longer sign up for life with any one cause or agency. Rather, they are more apt to commit for shorter periods of time to events and reasons that fit their schedule and lifestyle, McDevitt said.

“I think it’s a case of generational ... it’s more episodic. They are looking into events and short-term pieces.”

With that in mind, leaders at United Way launched “Get Connected,” a website designed to hook up volunteers with places that could use them, some desperately.

The program allows potential helpers to browse a selection of opportunities available in the area. With the set-up, people can “shop” for opportunities that fit their calendars and their hearts, McDevitt said. On the flip side, if a nonprofit doesn’t have a volunteer opportunity at the moment, the site lets visitors set up a profile that allows for updates to be emailed whenever the right possibility comes along.

People can also volunteer to help at events, maybe running a water station for a fun run or handing out printed information at the fair.

Get Connected is, basically, a matchmaking service with a monetary cost just about perfect for nonprofits, she said.

“In 2000, the (University of Washington) completed a study on the need for a volunteer center, and the appropriateness for United Way funding. While the study showed that it would be a great community asset, there was concern that funding an actual physical center would divert too much funding away from other agency needs,” McDevitt said. “This website is a great low cost alternative.”

McDevitt is departing as head of the agency at the end of this month to take over leadership at Helpline, and she counts “Get Connected” as one of her best accomplishments during her time with United Way.

There is no other similarly centralized service in the community, she added. Ways to help can also be categorized by a number of filters, such as time commitment — one time, full day, half day — group or individual, one-to-one interaction or committee service and age requirements, making it useful for students looking to fill community service hours.

The site launched in winter and McDevitt said she is excited for what it can eventually mean for all involved. As of now, United Way lacks hard data to link visitors to the site with feet through the door, she said, “but I know the agencies are looking for ways to get volunteers. People are still learning about this.”

For more information go to getconnected.unitedwayww.org.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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