Is volunteerism on the decline in Craig?

There are as many different volunteer opportunities as there are agencies in Moffat County, and yet, Craig is still experiencing a decline in volunteerism similar to the rest of the country. 

Multiple local agencies have reported a shortage of volunteers that began during the pandemic, when everyone was instructed to stay home. But now that activities have resumed, most of those organizations are not seeing volunteer numbers rebound. 

The Community Budget Center, Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA and the Community Kitchen all reported a decline in volunteerism within their agencies since the pandemic, though there may be different explanations in each case.

Valerie Guevara, operations manager for the Community Budget Center, coordinates most of the volunteers who come in. She noted that some volunteers are stepping back after big life changes or health issues. One longtime volunteer was diagnosed with cancer and had to step away.

Guevara also suspects there may be a generational gap in volunteering.

“I think that there was a whole era of people, the older generations of people were volunteering and we aren’t seeing younger people volunteer as much,” Guevara said.

Both the Budget Center and the Community Kitchen reported having some youth volunteers who come in — either with a group or from the guidance of adults in their life who want to instill the importance of volunteering. However, it hasn’t been enough.

“We’ve had different people over the years who have done different jobs for the Budget Center, but perhaps people think it is going to be harder work than it actually is,” Guevara said. “We just try to make it something that people will enjoy while they’re here.” 

Guevara said there is always a project at the Budget Center for someone who is wanting to give time, even if it’s just dusting shelves or going through clothes and checking them. Volunteers can even call the Budget Center ahead of time, allowing Guevara to organize enough projects to fill the time volunteers want to give.

“And for people who might be having a hard time, it makes them feel good to come in and refocus. They can come in and leave their worries at the door and be able to work on other things,” Guevara said.  

Julie Brown, the volunteer coordinator for Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA, said that they’ve heard from some volunteers who’ve had to step back post-pandemic as a result of the economy because people are having to take on second jobs and no longer can make the time commitment. 

Lauren Rising, program coordinator for CASA, also said that the turnover for CASA volunteers may be unique because of the nature of the work. 

“It’s a unique volunteer opportunity,” Rising said. “We live in a more beautiful part of the state and sometimes people don’t realize how much (child abuse and neglect) does impact our community. There is not a lot of awareness about the issue and that volunteers are needed.” 

Brown said that Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA has hosted a couple of Coffee with CASA events for community members to learn more about the agency and how to become a volunteer. 

Because CASA volunteers serve for a longer time period and receive training before they start working with local youth and families, it seems that more education and awareness is needed upfront to recruit volunteers. 

“It comes back to, we have such a tightknit community and such caring people, and I don’t know that the community knows where the need is, and maybe we can do better as a community to highlight that,” Rising said, adding that CASA has dedicated volunteers who go above and beyond to make sure children’s voices are heard in court. 

“You don’t have to be a professional in this field to volunteer,” Rising said. “You just have to have a concern for kids and be able to show up for them.” 

Heather Fross, executive director of Moffat County United Way, said she is still fairly new in her role and hesitant to speak to trends in local volunteerism, but she has heard from other local agencies about a need for both frontline volunteers and board members. 

Fross said that some of the gap could be that there isn’t a coordinated resource where volunteers can learn about all the local opportunities and find one that matches their skillset. 

Beth Newkirk, one of the longtime volunteers with the Community Kitchen at St. Michael’s Church, said that when they’ve done outreach in the past through the Craig Press for volunteers, they’ve had a surge of eight to 10 new volunteers. Then after a couple of weeks it slows down. 

“I think people forget,” Newkirk said. “We all get busy in our own lives. It’s something that needs to be put out there on a daily or weekly basis to keep it fresh in people’s minds.”

Newkirk said that volunteering with the Community Kitchen is pretty straightforward: People can just drop in at St. Michael’s church and help prepare meals or help serve meals on Tuesday or Thursday.  

Newkirk also said that seeing how much the meals mean to members of the community who need them makes it worth the time spent.

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