Thursday, September 11, 2003

Strong at first, volunteer spirit has waned

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A surge of volunteers responded to the 9-11 terrorist attacks with donations of time and money, but in Cincinnati the outpouring didn't last.

Two years after the worst terrorist strike in U.S. history, local nonprofits and volunteer agencies say donations have fallen off precipitously, leaving them with increased demands and fewer resources to fulfill them.

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The Hoxworth Blood Center reports that it cannot meet the needs of 24 hospitals it serves. The American Red Cross says it is desperate for disaster relief volunteers. Corporations say the number of volunteers has fallen to pre-Sept. 11 levels, and the United Way had to reduce its annual fund-raising goal this year by $1.5 million.

"There was a spontaneous urge to volunteer after Sept. 11," said Carl Biery, a volunteer disaster relief team leader for the American Red Cross in Northern Kentucky. "But then when they found out how much time it would take, all of a sudden they found they don't have that much time."

This comes while a national effort is under way to designate Sept. 11 as a national day of volunteerism. A coalition of organizations called One Day's Pay wants to honor the 3,000 people killed in the attacks with a nationally observed day dedicated to helping those in need.

About 90 percent of Cincinnati residents polled say that Sept. 11 should be a national holiday or a day of remembrance according to an Enquirer/WCPO-TV-sponsored survey.

Three out of five residents also said they volunteered in the past year. But much of that was done close to home - at schools and churches - as opposed to working with social service groups or disaster relief organizations.

"I think a lot more is being asked of people today," said Marcie Garrison, corporate events manager at Cinergy Corp. "People are being inundated. They have less time for volunteering; and if they do volunteer, it is for their kids' soccer team or the school."

Garrison said corporate belt-tightening has left people working longer hours and multiple jobs. The impact can be counted in the number of empty tables at corporate-sponsored events, where companies buy seats as a way to support an organization.

"We have trouble filling those tables on nights and weekends," Garrison said. "(Employees) want to spend time with their families."

Rob Schramm, a 60-year-old father of five in North Avondale, said he has limited time and he volunteers in ways that keep him close to his family.

"It's very simple. It's hours," he said. "Every hour I am away from home puts more of a burden on my wife." As a volunteer coach and soccer coordinator, Schramm helps 170 kids get on teams.

"It is less of going out and trying to solve the world's problems than it is about trying to affect something around me," Schramm explained. "Besides, I like being on the field with the kids."

Agencies need help

In the months after Sept. 11, more and more Americans began spending time at home. The weakening economy and the terrorist attacks led to a sort of cocooning across the nation, with people going on fewer trips and dropping more money to make home life more fun.

Now, volunteer agencies that depend on volunteers and donations are beginning to report significant shortages.

"After Sept. 11, we had about 1,000 volunteers on the short term," said Jennifer Vogel, spokeswoman for the Cincinnati area Red Cross. "It dropped off shortly after."

She described a "desperate need" for disaster-relief volunteers, who respond to fires, floods or other disasters and help victims begin their recovery.

"We respond to two fires a day," Vogel said. "We don't have many volunteers that do that type of work."

Cincinnati's Hoxworth Blood Center, which supplies blood to 24 regional hospitals in 14 counties, reported a 30 percent increase in blood donors in the month after Sept. 11.

"That wave of donors kept up for about six months," said Michael Anderson, Hoxworth spokesman. "We have been at or below normal donations since then. In the last 18 months we have collected less donations than we expected."

He said the national blood supply also has diminished.

To meet Greater Cincinnati's demand for blood, donations are needed from 325 people a day.

"A lot of people don't realize that there is a constant ongoing need for blood," Anderson said.

The United Way of Greater Cincinnati, which supports 165 local nonprofit agencies, lowered its annual campaign goal this year by $1.5 million after missing its goal in 2002. Citing economic hardships, organizers of the $60.5 million fund drive say the failure to meet the goal last year led them to cut funding to 65 percent of programs.

The United Way doesn't track the numbers of volunteers or how many hours they work, but even though financial contributions have fallen, calls from potential volunteers have risen since 2001.

Carol Aquino, United Way spokeswoman, said people would be surprised at the number of ways they can volunteer.

"Some people are especially good at finances or planning and may want to serve in a leadership capacity," she said. "Retirees may have time to deliver Meals on Wheels. Adults good at establishing and maintaining one-on-one relationships and who have the time could be Big Brothers/(Big) Sisters, mentors, tutors."

Despite shortages, people are still delivering their time and energy for no more pay than the satisfaction of doing a good deed.

This week, about 2,000 volunteers in the 1,000 Hands Project are gathering to build a gigantic riverboat playground at Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point. Volunteers from businesses large and small, individuals old and young, will paint, plant and construct a 10,500-square-foot custom playground under the Interstate 471 bridge.

Post-9-11 surge

Many Cincinnati companies saw a sharp spike in the number of volunteers coming forward immediately following the terrorist attacks. The good news is that the same employees who were volunteering before Sept. 11 are continuing to volunteer.

"It awakened a spirit in people to make things better," said Joe Hale, president of the Cinergy Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the utility company. "People were asking, 'What can I do?' It paralleled with the spirit we all felt, that we were not going to be defeated."

The pendulum had to swing back after Sept. 11, he said. But while the numbers of volunteers have changed, the work they are doing hasn't.

"It gives the community heart in some ways," Hale said. "People don't have to do this. It obviously makes them feel good."

Volunteerism comes out in many ways, Hale said. He points to development boards and commissions and the festivals that make Cincinnati summers so much fun. He recalled a hot, muggy night a little more than a week ago when more than 60 people showed up just to help plan a campaign to raise money for the West End YMCA.

"It seems to me that the truly extraordinary events in our city are volunteer-driven," he said. "We continue to see the development of our park system, the riverfront, Over-the-Rhine, the Banks; they are all made up by volunteer (boards)."

Numbers fall, not deeds

Since starting a volunteer program in Cincinnati in 1982, Procter & Gamble employees have donated 20,000 hours of volunteer time.

Volunteer support coordinator Debbie Kellerman said the company logs only volunteer hours that employees report.

"We don't want them to think that Big Brother is watching over them during their free time," she said.

While P&G logs show a drop in the number of volunteers after Sept. 11, Kellerman said that 718 employees contacted the company last year about volunteer efforts.

Federated also saw volunteer hours drop last year to 7,253 from 7,748 in 2001. But spokeswoman Jean Coggan said the company is launching an effort next week that will give about 200 local employees time off to volunteer at 10 different United Way agencies, such as St. Paul's Child Care, Stepping Stones Center and Children's Home of Cincinnati.

That's the same kind of mission that spurred 300 Greater Cincinnati Key Bank employees this week to donate 1,500 hours as part of the bank's "Neighbors Make a Difference Day." The idea was to get employees out into the communities where they work and help agencies make repairs and finish landscaping that residents otherwise would not be able to do.

Cincinnati Bell employees donated about 51,000 hours last year, down almost 2,600 hours from 2000.

After 9-11, the Cincinnati Bell Pioneers, a community service organization made up of past and present phone company employees and their families, led drives to help victims of the terrorist attacks and to donate goods to soldiers stationed overseas.

"I think volunteering builds camaraderie, leadership; and, of course, there is a marketing part to it. If you're out there doing good, the community knows it," said Carolyn Martinez, Pioneers administrator. "It helps the company and the individual employee."


Profiles of local volunteers:
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Dad impresses by going fishing
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Helping others helps heal
Math tutor gets lesson
When disaster hits, he responds
Mentors ease the teen years
Variety is the spice of giving

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Profiles of area victims in the 2001 attacks
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Photos of the attacks on the World Trade Center
Photos of the attacks on the Pentagon
Photos of Flight 73
Special multimedia coverage from Gannett News Service

Strong at first, volunteer spirit has waned
Here's how to get involved
Profiles of local volunteers:
16-year-old helps kids get the chance to dance
Dad impresses by going fishing
Arthritis can't keep her from job
Helping others helps heal
Math tutor gets lesson
When disaster hits, he responds
Mentors ease the teen years
Variety is the spice of giving

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