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O.C. Can Do Better Job on Volunteerism : The Needs Are Many--and Growing--but Residents Here Are Giving Less of Themselves

April 25, 1993

The late President Kennedy's plea was, "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." Former President Bush believed that "Any definition of a successful life must include serving others," which was the cornerstone of his "1,000 points of light" program. What they, and so many others, have urged through the years was increased volunteerism, simply giving back a part of yourself to your community and your neighbors.

The message was delivered again in Orange County last week, which was National Volunteer Week, with the launching of a special drive for volunteers. The shortage of help is especially crucial in Orange County because far too few have been asking what they can do.

The Volunteer Center of Greater Orange County reports that only 29% of the county's adults volunteer time to support a cause. The national average (54%) is nearly twice that high.

It's not that in "affluent" Orange County there is no need. Yes, the county, despite the hard knocks of the recent recession, is still fairly well off. But many residents, and organizations that help them, have been hard hit.

There are homeless to be fed, shelters to be staffed, hot lines to be answered, meals for the aged and shut-ins to be delivered, graffiti to be erased and public parks and beaches to be cleaned, to name but a few jobs that always need to be done.

One of the goals of the new drive for volunteers is to change perceptions and make residents more aware.

According to Carol Stone, executive director of the Volunteer Center, "there's a widely held perception that we're very wealthy here and have no social needs. People think all we need to do is write a check to solve our problems."

Well, that outlook falls short on both counts. Not only is there a substantial and growing need, but residents in Orange County haven't been writing checks with the same frequency as many other areas, or even as much as they used to do here.

In 1991 the median charitable donation in the county was $223 per person. Last year it dropped to $146. So, with government cutting back in its funding for social service programs and private charities receiving fewer contributions, the gap between what's needed and what's available keeps widening.

Given the tougher economic times, the drop in donations is understandable. What is harder to understand is why residents are giving so little of themselves, too.

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