Wyoming ranks high in volunteer efforts

Carrie Haderlie with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, via the Wyoming News Exchange

SHERIDAN PRESS — Throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wyoming ranked second in the nation for continued volunteer efforts.


Overall, the formal rate of volunteering through organizations in the United States saw a significant drop of seven percentage points, from 30% in 2019 to 23.2% in 2021, according to AmeriCorps.


But in 2021 in Wyoming, 179,694 residents, or 39% of people in the state, volunteered through an organization, contributing $402.9 million in economic value to the state, according to AmeriCorps’ Volunteering and Civic Life in America biennial study. 


Additionally, more than 258,000 residents in Wyoming helped their neighbors in the height of the pandemic.


“Americans continue to serve each other and their communities. While nationally we saw the first-ever decline in formal volunteering with organizations, we also saw that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact, Americans continued to help their neighbors at similar rates to years prior,” said Michael D. Smith, AmeriCorps CEO, in a press release.


“Whether volunteering one time or serving for a longer term, Americans can make a tremendous difference,” Smith said. “We intend to learn from what worked well in Wyoming and share that with others.”


In Sheridan and Johnson counties, Foster Grandparents of the Wyoming Rockies, which is overseen by AmeriCorps Seniors, took only a very short break during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“Our Sheridan County, Johnson County and Carbon County grandparents, which were a third of the volunteers (in my region), were back in school right away. Our grandparents, with the exception of a couple months that spring of 2020, served through the entire pandemic,” Maryalice Snider, program director for Foster Grandparents of the Wyoming Rockies, said this week following the release of AmeriCorps data.


Snider oversees seven Wyoming counties, and said volunteers in Sheridan, Johnson and Carbon counties returned to regional schools in the fall of 2020. Foster grandparents in Lincoln, Uinta and Sweetwater counties returned to their posts in the fall of 2021, and in the fall of 2022 in Albany County.


There are currently nine foster grandparents in Sheridan and Johnson counties, who routinely visit and volunteer in schools in the area. They’re instrumental in their schools and to the youth they serve, Snider said.


“They really played an instrumental role in helping kids catch up after being out,” she said. “Teachers love and depend on them.”


This weekend, Foster Grandparents of the Wyoming Rockies will hold a training for its northeastern Wyoming participants, offering them the opportunity to connect with each other and also stay up-to-date on their skills, Snider said. In the years following the pandemic, volunteer opportunities have provided critical social connection as well as community services across Wyoming.


“When everything was shut down and everyone was sent home, our program project coordinators checked in with our volunteers. We knew that, for them, connection is a big part of why they became foster grandparents. Isolation was a real concern for us,” she said.


In general, volunteering imparts health benefits like improvements in mental health and even reduced blood pressure, according to AmeriCorps Senior research.

“We’ve always known intuitively that volunteering does a world of good for our volunteers,” Snider said.


Volunteering and Civic Life in America research indicated that Americans contributed billions of hours to their communities through formal and informal volunteer efforts between September 2020 and 2021 during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 51% of Americans, or 124.7 million people, informally helped their neighbors at least once in the past year.


Additionally, more than 23% of Americans, or 60.7 million people, formally volunteered with an organization, giving more than 4.1 billion hours of service with an estimated economic value of $122.9 billion.


AmeriCorps Seniors programs were included in a federal government budget announcement in March providing increases to the member living allowance to the equivalent of $13 per hour, and volunteer stipend to $4.50 per hour.


In Wyoming, applicants who pass a background check, meet eligibility requirements and step up for the program currently receive a $4 per hour stipend for volunteer work, according to Snider.


“When you are at an age when much of your life is behind you, so to speak, to venture out and do this new thing, is huge. But it is amazing,” Snider said. “We have grandparents say this is the best decision they have ever made, and they feel so connected to their community. They feel like they are making a difference.”


This story was published on April 15, 2023. 


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