Spending Time In Service To Others

Freshta Mohammad sorts medical supplies. Some volunteers will work for CrossLink during VolunteerFest, an event that encourages service.
Freshta Mohammad sorts medical supplies. Some volunteers will work for CrossLink during VolunteerFest, an event that encourages service. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Anne Hugill has a sizable commute from her home in Fairfax County to a stressful accounting job at AOL in Dulles. And each week, she suits up in workout wear to teach boot-camp, step-aerobics and core-conditioning classes.

So you might think she would spend her free time with a bubble bath or a good book. Instead, Hugill passes much of it volunteering.

Two to four weekends a month, Hugill, 43, might be straightening library bookshelves, tagging thrift-store clothing or cleaning streams. And like other members of Volunteers for Change, a Fairfax program that organizes night and weekend volunteer gigs for working adults in the career-obsessed and traffic-jammed Washington area, Hugill insists that giving back feels more like a release than a drag.

"It takes your mind off your day things," Hugill, 43, said. "When you meet these people who need you and love to see you, it just brings everything back to a more even keel, and you just feel great about being there."

A national study found this year that residents of the Washington region volunteer at a rate higher than the national average, despite long commutes and busy lives.

Residents of suburban Washington generally devote about 60 hours per year to volunteering, compared with 50 hours nationally, according to the study by the Corporation for National and Community Service. That is good news for Volunteer Fairfax, an organization that connects people and corporations with volunteer jobs in the county through programs including Volunteers for Change and VolunteerFest, to be held Saturday.

Each year during the one-day, give-back extravaganza, hundreds of volunteers fan out across Fairfax to devote a few hours to helping schools, parks and nonprofit organizations.

This year, participants can choose from projects that include stuffing care packages for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, pulling weeds at parks and rebuilding the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program's horse barn in Clifton, which was destroyed by fire in July. There are 44 projects, many suitable for families and children.

The hope is that first-timers will catch the volunteering bug.

"Volunteerism is alive and well," said Cori Bassett, a spokeswoman for Volunteer Fairfax. "But the need for volunteers in this area is ongoing. As much as a nonprofit gains and expands, it's more opportunity to serve more people, and there's more need for volunteers."

Hugill will spend VolunteerFest hanging and processing donated clothes at Yesterday's Rose in Fairfax, a thrift store that raises funds for organizations including the American Red Cross. Yesterday's Rose is one of her regular volunteer sites.

Three years ago, Hugill had done only a few volunteer jobs through her workplace. But once, after she began a tough project at work, she yearned for a distraction, something meaningful. She wanted to feel that she was giving, she said, not just getting.

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