Volunteers Are Priceless for Local Nonprofit Groups; Their Free Labor Allows Many Organizations to Maintain Their Community Projects

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNE MARIE APOLLO

Most every morning, William and Marion Libby are on the road, handing out food as part of the St. Johns County Council on Aging's Meals on Wheels program.

During the three years they've volunteered, they've seen their commitment rise from about once a week to just about every day.

Their time, and that of thousands of others like them across Northeast Florida, is crucial to nonprofit groups that otherwise might not exist or be able to provide the same level of help.

Although the Corporation for National and Community Service ranks Florida 48th nationally -- estimating just more than a fifth of people in the state give their time -- that doesn't match what groups dedicated to volunteerism said they are seeing in the region.

Sue Nelson, an initiatives director for Volunteer Jacksonville, said the First Coast more than tops the 27 percent national average for people who volunteer.

The 2006 Quality of Life Progress Report by the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. indicated 56 percent of people surveyed in Duval County said they volunteer. Thirty-two percent gave more than seven hours weekly, it said.

Scott VanDeman, director of communications for Volunteer Florida, said there are an estimated 212,000 active mentors in Florida. During the 2004-05 hurricane season, that swelled to 252,000 people who donated 10 million hours for disaster relief.

"The value of volunteer time locally has a great impact," Nelson said. She credits a large military population and community awareness raised by the city.

The work the volunteers perform is not always glamorous, but is necessary.

Among other things, the 25 volunteers in the master gardener program at the Nassau County Extension Office tend to a demonstration garden in Yulee, help with plant clinics in Callahan, answer phones and speak at schools.

The Clay County Agricultural Fair wouldn't be possible without such help, manager Pete Sutton said. …