01/02/06 — Volunteers saved county agencies labor costs, provided extra touch

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Volunteers saved county agencies labor costs, provided extra touch

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 2, 2006 1:49 PM

Depending on the measuring stick used, services provided by volunteers saved the county millions of dollars, local officials say.

Figures are based on the Independent Sector, a leadership forum for charities and giving programs, said Barbara Stiles, director of the Volunteer Wayne program.

"They quantify the value of different jobs, using a $17.55 an hour rate," she said, an average range that factors in the cost of benefits.

Mrs. Stiles works with about 68 different non-profit agencies across the county, placing volunteers where needed.

"Lots of folks think we're a matchmaker," she said. "They can call us and tell us days and times available, and we'll know who's open (to volunteer)."

She currently has 337 active volunteers on the rolls who contributed at least an hour of time over the past year. For some, it is a chance to build on their skills, while others want to try something new and develop new skills. But typically, every volunteer gets to change lives by doing something he or she enjoys, she said.

"Some people do something every day, others once a week or once a month, like Meals on Wheels, and others participate once a year in 'Make a Difference Day' and feel really good about it," Mrs. Stiles said. "Any way they want to do it, it's really important. It all adds up in the scheme of things."

Volunteers help supply special needs that cannot always be met by staff and budgets, said Tanya Rollins, special services director of Cherry Hospital. During 2005, the hospital averaged 174 volunteers per month. With events such as the annual parade and parties during December, though, the number of volunteers jumped to 567, she said.

"Individual and group volunteers provided support by hosting parties, visiting patients, collecting donations and assisting with patients or holiday events," she said.

Total volunteer hours last year were 65,036. Using the Independent Sector's measure, that accounted for $1.141 million in labor, Mrs. Rollins said.

In the WAGES Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions programs, the 200 volunteers receive an untaxed stipend that is not considered income. Through a federal grant, the $2.76 an hour rate serves to defray the volunteer's cost for such things as travel.

Joyce Britt-Halliwell, director of the two programs, said the rate of service is lower than that used by the RSVP program.

"We use minimum wage" as the guide, she said. The estimated savings for 200 volunteers at $5.15 per hour, at an average of 20 hours per week, totals $1.07 million per year.

"Without them, there wouldn't be these people in the classrooms or in the home," she said.

About 50 of the Senior Companions and Foster Grandparents work with individuals in a group home or training area each year at O'Berry Center, director Dr. Frank Farrell said. Working four hours a day, five days per week, it translates to 52,000 hours per year of service, he said. At minimum wage, that represents $267,000 in savings.

"These volunteers really enhance the quality of life for the individuals that live at O'Berry," Farrell said. "They provide the individual attention and, in the case of the Foster Grandparents, the long-term relationships where they have worked with them for months and in some cases, even years. They also develop a bond that's really evident when you observe them."

Wayne Memorial Hospital also benefits from the services of volunteers. In an average month, 140 serve in various capacities, said Donna Archer, director of volunteer services. During 2005, they served more than 25,000 hours, she said.

"The level of customer service and experience offered by volunteers is priceless," she said. "A kind word and a caring ear is invaluable."

The Meals on Wheels program attributes much of its success to volunteers, director Brownie Doss said. During 2005, 1,619 volunteers logged 22,843 hours delivering 81,852 meals to 495 homebound residents in Wayne County.

"Meals on Wheels is a volunteer-dependent program," Mrs. Doss said. "Some programs are enhanced by volunteers, but in this case there would be no program without the volunteers. In many cases, the short visit by the volunteers is just as important as the meal. They provide not only a social contact but they also provide a daily check on the person. We like to say, 'Meals on Wheels and so much more.'"

The measure of success goes beyond dollars and cents. In addition to saving the county money and keeping many programs up and running, volunteering often proves to be a life-saver for those who participate.

Cleo Trigones, 76, a Foster Grandparent with WAGES, is also assigned to the Family Y preschool as a mentor in the Wayne Area Role Models with Hearts, or WARM Hearts program.

"It has filled in the loneliness of my life," she said, choking up as she shares what the experience means to her.

"What I get out of it, it fills in the gap of my life. I get the pleasure of being with the young children at the preschool. They touch my heart and when I'm with them, I feel like a nanny to them. I feel great pleasure that I kind of teach them."

Vanessa Spiron, director of the WARM Hearts program, works with about two dozen volunteer mentors at any one time. Each commits to the program for a year, spending at least two hours a week with a child.

"The value of our volunteers is immeasurable. They are the heart of the WARM Hearts program," she said.

The contribution goes beyond the child to whom they are assigned, she said, often extending to entire families.

"One mother said, 'My son learned the importance of giving and helping others without receiving anything back but a smile and a thank you,'" she said.

While many mentors enter the program to serve as a positive role model, they wind up reaping many benefits themselves, Mrs. Spiron said.

"The volunteers in our program become more well-rounded citizens, more sympathetic to others, and gain a sense of being needed and helping others," she said. "One mentor commented that the best part of the WARM Hearts program is 'making a difference in the life of the mentee and also her family. I received as many caring experiences as I tried to give, making me a better person and (giving me) a broader understanding of how others live and experience life and challenges.'"

One local family decided to involve their children in volunteering to experience the lessons it provided firsthand.

Greg and Tracy Braddy have eight children, and all except 7-month-old Abigail tag along once a week when Greg makes a Meals on Wheels delivery. From 2-year-old Aaron to 13-year-old Jacob Kriger, each plays a role, their parents say.

"One will carry a tray, one will carry the cooler, one the food," Braddy said. "Someone will knock on the door, they'll take turns carrying the tray in and putting it on the table. All have an active part."

It started out as a family project.

"We decided they needed to see what other people go through," Braddy said. "We wanted to help them see that they don't have it as bad as they think they do, and we wanted to teach them to help others and to see how other people live out in the world."

There was a lesson to be learned, too, Mrs. Braddy said.

"We do it because we want to teach our children that it's better to give than receive and see that there are people out there that need our help," she said.

Serving as volunteers seemed like a good lesson for her home-schooled charges, she added.

"Sometimes children have a tendency to be selfish. When you give, you get pulled out of that really quick. This is part of a community outreach for them. We don't give a lot, but we can do a little bit."