Smith County volunteers put in 197,197 hours

Published on Friday, 11 April 2014 20:19 - Written by Adam Russell

Amy Baxter was drawn to her first volunteer experience by the marquee at the venue she came to serve. She continued to volunteer because of the events, people and artists she helped.

Ms. Baxter rolled watercolor posters for opening night at Liberty Hall in 2011. She said Liberty Hall represented a place to showcase culture and art, from movies, concerts and comedy, downtown. She wanted to be a part of the renaissance.

Her volunteer role has snowballed since. As a downtown resident, she helps out where she can, including ushering guests to their seats and taking tickets.

“It’s a lot of fun to get out and be around people that like to experience something different, whether it’s seeing older movies that aren’t shown anymore and cultural events,” she said.

Liberty Hall is run by the city. Like many organizations and municipalities around the country, tight budgets mean reliance on volunteers. Unlike most other city departments and nonprofit organizations however, Liberty Hall has one full-time staff member and relies solely on volunteers.

“Volunteers mean everything,” Liberty Hall manager Anne Payne said. “I couldn’t do my job without them.”

More than 5,000 volunteer hours have been logged since Liberty Hall opened, Mrs. Payne said.

During national volunteer week, organizations around the city celebrated the helping hands who gave time and effort to keep them open and effective. Tyler/Smith County volunteers give thousands of hours each year at the county, where volunteers log criminal reports, work at Heart to Heart Hospice providing direct patient care; and also at East Texas Medical Center, PATH and The Salvation Army serving residents in need, making the community a better place to live.

Volunteerism in the United States hit a 30-year high in 2005 when 65 million, or 32 percent, of Americans gave time. There is speculation that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and other subsequent natural disasters around the globe may have contributed to volunteer resurgence.

There was hope among volunteerism advocates the trend would end with 75 million volunteers by 2010. But volunteerism has waned or grown only fractionally since and in 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 64.5 million Americans, or 26.5 percent, volunteered with at least one organization.

Texas ranked 42nd nationally for volunteerism, with 24 percent of residents contributing 28.7 million hours of service valued at $12.6 billion, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Pam Moorman, volunteer coordinator for Hospice of East Texas and member of the East Texas Directors of Volunteers in Agencies, which coordinates volunteer outreach for dozens of area public and private organizations, said East Texas is different from any other place she has been involved in recruiting and directing volunteers.

“It’s heaven. It’s a whole different world,” she said. “It is a marvelous community that gives back in many ways and will always look for ways to help.”

Ms. Moorman said there is a different attitude within Directors of Volunteers in Agencies locally. Typically, agencies compete for volunteers, but here, it is more camaraderie and finding positions for volunteers that best fit the organization and the individual.

Historically, retirees made up the bulk of volunteers, she said. But there is a wide range of people from all walks of life, including high school and college students and professionals who give time each day.

Ms. Moorman said volunteerism keeps retirees active and engages teenagers within the community. She said studies have shown logging volunteer time benefits those giving as much as it does the recipient groups.

“It’s like the new workout,” she said. “It helps people stay younger and healthier and with socialization. When people are more active and giving of themselves, they are generally happier and healthier physically.”

There is no singular database tracking total volunteerism in Tyler/Smith County. Many hours go unreported and involve singular acts to help various agencies, civic organizations and churches meet a need or fill an operational gap.

As a snapshot for the thousands-upon-thousands of hours that are volunteered within the community, eight agencies, including Hospice of East Texas, the city of Tyler, Smith County, Smith County Juvenile Services, The Salvation Army, East Texas Medical Center, the East Texas Food Bank and PATH reported volunteers logged 197,197 hours at a value of $4,446,792.

But it goes beyond logged hours.

Mrs. Payne said she believes it’s the Southern — “be kind, be good and be helpful” — mentality. Artists put together shows, graphic designers make adjustments to the theater’s website, and quality control specialists create revenue and expenditure graphs because they see the need and have the know-how, she said.

“Tyler is unique in that when someone asks for help, people come and ask how they can do their part,” she said.