LIMA — Volunteerism and community service are, by nature, activities that do not attract much attention. Defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as “unpaid work (except for expenses) through or for an organization,” these acts of service are not focused on promoting self, but others, whether it is helping to put a new roof on an elderly person’s house, manning a registration booth at a blood drive, or picking up trash after an outdoor concert. They can be done on an individual level or through such avenues as service clubs, nonprofit groups or neighborhood associations.
While it is commonly accepted that volunteering time and resources is a worthwhile endeavor, the number of Americans volunteering has slowly been declining. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentages of Americans volunteering at least once during the year has been on a slow decline, dropping almost 2 percent, from 26.8 percent to 24.9 percent of the overall population, from 2011 to 2015. While this may seem like a very low number, that represents more than 1.5 million fewer Americans getting involved in volunteerism now compared to five years ago.
Is that the case in west central Ohio? For people involved with area community service and service clubs, that question is difficult to answer.
‘5 of us can’t run the show’
Lima’s Square Fair was once one of the highlight events of the year for Lima’s downtown, a festive weekend on Town Square featuring family activities, beer gardens and live music from such acts as Loverboy and Brownsville Station.
However, the festival was put on hiatus in 2013 when fewer businesses decided to participate in it. One of the issues that has kept the event from returning is difficulty finding people to help, both for the actual event and for serving on the board, according to Square Fair board member Tami Trenkamp.
“Once people realize the work that goes into it, we lose them,” she said. “They’ll listen, they seem committed, and when the time for them to show up, they don’t. This is something that we put on from start to finish. We don’t have the luxury to hire people to come in and set stuff up. Five of us can’t run the show.”
Trenkamp has heard from people wanting to see Square Fair return, but the board does not want to bring something back until it can be properly manned, she said.
“You want to run something that will be a success and something that the community will be proud of,” she said.
Not enough hours in the day
For 28-year-old Sean Wintzer, president of the Wapakoneta Rotary Club, there has not been an issue with being able to find help for service projects, as younger adults often want to help but may not have the means to just give financially.
“A lot of us can donate more time than money,” he said.
Another issue for a lot of younger people with families is increased demands on time, with schedules filled with school or extracurricular activities.
“My one granddaughter is 6, and she has cheerleading practice on Monday and Tuesday, and when school starts, she’ll have Girl Scouts on Wednesday,” city of Lima Neighborhood Specialist Connie Dershem said. “Thursday is dance night and she also wants to play soccer.”
Because of this, it has been difficult for Dershem and Lima Allen County Neighborhoods in Partnership to find people to join neighborhood associations or organizational boards. For many people, it is one thing to help at a one-time event, but quite another to commit to a monthly or biweekly meeting.
“It’s hard for them to come to meetings,” Dershem said. “Neighborhood associations have been here for 25 years, and a lot of them have had the same people during that time.”
Heather Rutz of Allen Lima Leadership experienced this same difficulty when trying to organize a series of seminars to teach people what they need to know when joining a board of directors.
“We’re looking to see how we can improve the quantity and quality of people to serve on these boards,” she said. “Our first attempt at that was a board leadership series that we had to cancel because of a lack of interest.”
‘A great place for people to give their time’
Despite these difficulties, both Lima and Wapakoneta are seen as good places to volunteer, with many people still willing to lend a hand when needed.
“I think there’s a strong volunteer culture in Lima,” Rutz said. “People still come out to help.”
Dershem said that between 3,000 and 4,000 people in Lima volunteer in some capacity every year.
“Whenever there’s something going on, at least for things I’m involved in, there is a ton of people who come out,” she said.
For Wintzer, service clubs are still going strong because people still want to help others. In Wapakoneta, for instance, the Rotary Club holds yearly blood testing events, according to Wintzer, and the club helped buy bed warmers for an orphanage in India, while also helping with local organization Mercy Unlimited, as well as the local FFA club.
“Rotary’s motto has always been service above self,” he said. “We try to live by that as much as we can.”
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.