Bob Kulinski

Volunteers play a critical role in community-building efforts in Summit County. When a robust volunteer program is part of a broader community change strategy, people become inspired to engage in meaningful work that helps address our most pressing social challenges.

On June 20, we saw people from all walks of life come together through United Way’s annual Day of Action to make Summit County a better place to live for everyone. Every year on the third Friday of June, United Way coordinates nearly 100 service events across Summit County. This year some 1,400 volunteers — a record number — mobilized to undertake projects focused on improving education, income and health.

But providing opportunities for volunteers is not a one-day undertaking. United Way also encourages long-term commitments to volunteering. In 2013, more than 2,400 volunteers referred directly through United Way’s Volunteer Center gave their time to read with elementary students, to establish and maintain community gardens in blighted neighborhoods, to prepare and deliver meals to homebound individuals and more.

Center workshops and training sessions help local nonprofits provide the best volunteer experience possible. United Way’s Corporate Volunteer Council encourages, educates and connects businesses that support as a business strategy employee volunteer programs.

Beyond connections made through United Way’s Volunteer Center, United Way-funded volunteer activities make a significant difference. Volunteers regularly meet and are working on an aggressive agenda to improve their neighborhoods through the Neighborhood Network of University Park. Circle Allies — volunteers through the Summit Bridges-Bridges Out of Poverty initiative — mentor people in poverty through rigorous 18-month commitments. The American Red Cross of Summit and Portage Counties makes available a stable cadre of volunteers ready to respond in a crisis. Red Cross and Faith in Action volunteers transport senior and disabled persons to medical appointments all over the county.

While American volunteer rates are declining, United Ways across the country are seeing a dramatic increase in volunteer participation — at more than double the rate of growth in volunteers compared to the U.S. overall, with predicted increases next year, according to a new community leaders’ survey by United Way Worldwide. These survey findings were released last week as part of the report, “Volunteering: The Force Multiplier for Community Change.” United Way Worldwide released its report immediately before more than 250 Day of Action projects kicked-off across the world. You can download the report at http://www.unitedway.org/volunteeringreport.

America’s volunteer rate is at its lowest point since the federal government started measuring it 12 years ago, down from 27.5 percent in 2002 to 25.4 percent in 2013. Despite the declining proportion of people volunteering, population growth translated into a 9 percent gain in actual volunteers from 2002 through 2012.

In contrast, United Ways saw a 23.8 percent increase in volunteers in the same time period. And 73 percent of the global panel of United Way chief executive officers who responded predict volunteering will continue to rise in the next year. That knowledge is reflected in the experiences of United Way of Summit County, which has seen a 10.7 percent increase from 2012 to 2013 in volunteers directly connected to opportunities through the Volunteer Center. And the number of Day of Action volunteers in 2014 increased by 15 percent over the previous year.

Why is United Way seeing so many more volunteers and a dramatically larger rate of volunteer growth? People donate to United Way, but more and more people are also answering the call to step up and give their time in addition to their money to make their community a better place.

In Summit County, United Way works hard to galvanize people around improved education, financial stability and health and the connections among all three. We’ve made it a priority to ask people to get involved and we make it easy to get connected.

United Way of Summit County partners with a wide variety of employers, individuals, nonprofits, schools and institutions to engage citizens in community solutions through volunteer participation. These are critical partnerships that help to build a thriving community.

As an individual or as a representative of an organization, United Way can help you become a part of the change. We will work to connect you with what matters most to you, and at the same time help you create a positive impact in your community. Visit the United Way of Summit County Volunteer Center on our website at uwsummit.org or email volunteer@uwsummit.org for more information.

Kulinski has been the president and chief executive of the United Way of Summit County since 2000.