Volunteers fill growing opportunities

Monday, December 17, 2007 | 6:22 p.m. CST; updated 5:52 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia volunteers donated 40,067 hours of service across 11 different city departments in fiscal 2007, up 6 percent from fiscal 2006.

Those numbers were included in an annual report to the Columbia City Council from Volunteer Services Coordinator Leigh Nutter. Although declining numbers were an issue in fiscal 2006, when the city recorded 37,760 volunteer hours, the expansion of projects in the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments sparked new interest in volunteers.

Helping hands

Here’s a look at the number of volunteer hours contributed to the city since fiscal 2000. Fiscal 2007: 40,067 Fiscal 2006: 37,760 Fiscal 2005: 43,019 Fiscal 2004: 39,932 Fiscal 2003: 40,912 Fiscal 2002: 39,131 Fiscal 2001: 41,402 Fiscal 2000: 46,775

“There are always fluctuations year to year,” Nutter said. “We look at numbers over 40,000, and that alone says great things about the city.”

A new program drawing interest was the Columbia Aquatic Restoration Project. Volunteers received instructional classes followed by field training in areas such as pond ecology, storm-water management and rain gardening. This new and unique opportunity to work with aquatic management brought volunteers back time and time again, Nutter said.

The Department of Public Works experienced similar growth in its storm-water program. Project coordinator Mona Menezes explained that the number of people who volunteered for stream cleanups and to place decals at storm-water drains to reduce pollution had increased threefold from 563 in 2005 to 1,579 this year.

“All we had to do was give them an opportunity to be part of the solution, and they came out by the hundreds,” Menezes said.

Another significant increase came from public safety volunteers. Throughout the year, participants in the Columbia Fire Department’s Community Emergency Response Team and the Columbia Police Department’s volunteer program assisted with special events and projects.

Both directors agree that as programs like these continue to be established, volunteer numbers should increase.

“We will continue with our programs that work and build on those with more opportunities and volunteers,” Nutter concluded.

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