Lives changed thanks to volunteers
Mar. 02, 2014 @ 06:00 PM

Not long before Christmas, one mother and her children desperately needed help. Life at home was never easy, but now it had turned violent — and dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that the Department of Social Services and courts had to get involved.

But that didn’t end the threat, so she had to find another way to escape.

Their first option was a homeless outreach, which was certainly better than staying in the home. But when HAVEN in Lee County finally reopened in December after overcoming some financial challenges, it was the perfect blessing.

At HAVEN, this mother and her children found exactly what they needed.

First, they found a safe refuge. Mom then attended support groups to cope with all of the difficult challenges they were facing, and she received practical help to figure out what to do next.

Most important of all, they found real hope.

Earlier this month, mom and her children found a new place to live, leaving the shelter behind for a fresh, new start.

And none of this would have happened without volunteers.

HAVEN is now home for six women and 12 children, and it has recovered financially thanks entirely to volunteers. Some of that is changing now — the organization did just hire a part-time office administrator to manage the finances, though that office administrator remains their only paid staff member.

Susan King volunteered to serve part-time as executive director while HAVEN got back on its feet again. Everyone answering the 24-hour hotline is a volunteer. Everyone operating the shelter is a volunteer. Everyone serving as receptionist is a volunteer.

I recently asked Susan what she’d do without all of the volunteers. She paused for a moment and then simply said: Oh dear! After getting over that initial, frightening thought, she concluded the only thing that would be happening in the entire outreach is that somebody would be writing a check now and then to cover some essential expense.

Just imagine what that would mean for all of these women and children!

Schools, churches and nonprofits have countless stories about how important volunteers are in our community. But what you may not have thought about is how valuable they are as well.

Every year, the nonprofit Independent Sector estimates the monetary value of a volunteer hour, a figure that’s used by charities to estimate the overall economic contribution their volunteers make. Right now, the estimated value of volunteer time is $22.14 per hour.

Just think about that! If you volunteer five hours per week, you’re contributing almost $5,800 worth of services to a local organization during the year!

Or, you can look at it from the perspective of nonprofits. National statistics are simply staggering. It’s so early in the new year that numbers haven’t been released yet for 2013; but the year before, 64.5 million Americans volunteered about 7.9 billion hours. That comes to roughly $175 billion dollars contributed by people all over this country.

While chatting with Susan, she simply gushed about how invested locals are in our entire community — not just in the domestic violence shelter, but every other area of civic life. She mentioned one woman who moved to Lee County and was absolutely amazed at how much support our nonprofits get from so many businesses and individuals.

Who knows how many of our neighbors have had their lives changed by a volunteer — whether it’s someone reading with a child in school, singing in the church choir or serving lunch to the homeless. Perhaps even helping a family recover from domestic violence.

There’s no doubt: We truly are living in a special community and it’s largely thanks to volunteers. It’s thanks to generous people like you.

Note: Local volunteer opportunities are listed online at

Jan Hayes is executive director of the United Way of Lee County.