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Volunteer works to build job skills

While thousands of workers flounder in a jobless recovery, a recent study shows that an increasing number of volunteers across America are pulling on their working boots and helping their communities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics report says that 1.5 million more volunteers shared their time and skills between September of 2008 and 2009 as compared to the same time frame a year earlier.

These volunteers are giving back to society, but also benefiting themselves: research shows that those who volunteer have lower death rates and are less likely to suffer from depression.

At Winchester Hospital, director of volunteers Marie Johnson says she’s seen a 30 percent increase in volunteers, many of who are unemployed, looking to switch careers and build up experience in healthcare, or recent graduates who are unable to find work. Volunteer positions include coffee cart, messenger service, emergency room, and pre-admission testing to clerical, day surgery, and X-ray transport.

“Volunteering is a two-way street,” says Johnson, who was once a volunteer herself and is now a hospital administrator, heading up the volunteer program as well as chairing the ethics committee. “For us, volunteers are the heart and soul of the hospital.”

Whether it’s volunteering for literacy, human rights, seniors, animals, hunger, arts and culture, or the environment, the Internet has changed the face of volunteering, making volunteer resources easier to access, and providing virtual volunteering opportunities or online mobilization – a form of activism that Jayne Cravens of the United Nations Online called “volunteering in your pajamas.”

Volunteering is not for everyone. At Winchester Hospital, for example, volunteers must possess certain requirements to serve patients, including Cori background checks, proof of TB testing, ability to follow directions, and to communicate effectively in English.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is volunteering for the first time, whether it’s at a hospital, shelter, or food bank?
A:
I run my department like it’s human resources. My job is to develop a job description of volunteers, and recruit people for various volunteer positions. We don’t take everyone. Volunteers need to go through a mandatory training and, just like any employee in the hospital, keep up with any department updates. The expectation is that every volunteer works at least 3-4 hours every week.

Q: What sort of volunteers do you see coming through the door?
A:
I manage 750 people, including the largest junior volunteer program in the state. Every summer we have hundreds of high school students who are learning about the value of community service and being exposed to careers in the healthcare field, whether it’s nursing, phlebotomy, X-ray, or nutrition.

Q: Does volunteering really help people get jobs?
A:
You can definitely get a foot in the door. We had one crackerjack volunteer in the day surgery unit, and when a position opened up, they knew the quality of her fabulous work ethic, and she was hired. So yes, volunteering does work.

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