A new American volunteer is emerging as more professional people, men, retired citizens and young people are offering their time and skills, a Virginia official says.
G. Neil Karn, director of the Virginia Office on Volunteerism, said recently that volunteers seldom fit the "lady bountiful" mold anymore - a mold attacked by women's rights advocates as being all too often an exploited housewife working for free.
Karn said one reason for the greater diversity among volunteers is that innovative, "nontraditional" volunteer services are opening up.
Volunteers are getting involved in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] more substantive programs [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Karn said. "People are really [WORD ILLEGIBLE] how they can impact on their communities."
Although figures are not available on the number of volunteers in Virginia, Karn said national statistics indicate that one of every four Americans performs volunteer work and of those, a third serve in their volunteer capacity at least once a week. He said about 15 million Americans donate a total of 140 million volunteer hours annually.
Local volunteer administrators echoed Karn's sentiments and said the change in types of volunteers has been brought about largely because volunteer jobs are changing. Christina Watters, who coordinates volunteer programs for the Alexandria Department of Social Services, said some of the programs that volunteers find most interesting, such as crisis telephone lines and rape counseling programs, did not exist before the last decade.
"There's a whole class of volunteers coming up who say, 'You're not going to stick me collecting envelopes,'" Watters said.
The new volunteer also expects charity work to give him or her something in return, said Martha Long, chairwoman of the Fairfax Roundtable, a group of voluntary organizations that get together to share common problems in administering volunteer programs. People often use the experience to see if they like the field enough to go into it full-time, to keep in contact with a former profession or to find a feeling of usefulness. For example, she said, the federal government will give job applicants work experience credit for volunteer work if it is in the same field as the job they are seeking.
Yet these administrators must ask for time from people who are increasingly busy, especially as more women enter the job market. This presents problems for administrators trying to recruit volunteers. According to Sue Zajac, administrator of the Arlington School Volunteer Program, since volunteers are trying to "expand themselves," the administrators must be able to fill more specific needs than in the past.
"You have to appeal to the volunteer," she said, "so you must identify people's needs." Those needs can be as diverse as the volunteers themselves - from a retired citizen trying to stay active to a youth experimenting in a field he is considering as a career."
Jean Berg, who directs volunteers in the Arlington Department of Human Resources, said volunteers must be placed in jobs they find "educational challenging and meaningful." If that goal is met, the experience will be "reciprocal," with the volunteer gaining from the program and the program gaining from the volunteer's work.
Sue Hart, a self-avowed "workaholic," works 12 to 15 hours a day in the press office of the Federal Trade Commission. Yet Hart find time to spend one night a week as a volunteer at the Fairfax Social Center for emotionally disturbed persons.
"You take the time," she said. "There's a desire there (because it's) the most gratifying time in the world."
Hart is typical of professional people who are becoming more involved in volunteer work than they had in the past. When she began looking for a community service she could help, her choices were narrowed because she wanted an unstructured group atmosphere, rather than a one-on-one relationship. The Social Center offers her that opportunity, she said, because she works with a group of emotionally distubed patients by planning social activities for them.
"There's no compensation for what I'm doing," Hart said, adding that she wouldn't want to be paid because her service would then become an obligation and perhaps tedious. As it is now, she said, "I haven't missed a night yet."
Hart, who has been working at the Social Center for several months, said, "I'll never quit volunteering, I'll be selective with what I do."
For Robert Weeks, his volunteer work at Barcroft Elementary School in Arlington is almost an extension of his Navy career.
"You spend your whole time in the Navy showing people," he said.
Weeks began working as a volunteer five years ago after he retired from the Navy. He found his present job, tutoring fifth and sixth graders in English and math, when he first worked as a volunteer at the Arlington Senior Adult Employment Program. The program is designed to help retirees find meaningful ways to spend their time.
Weeks said his work helps fill a void at the school and at the same time helps fill a void in his daily activity.
"Some of the boys respond better and behave better when they're working with a man," he said, noting that many of the teachers are women. Because of that, Weeks said he spends most of his time tutoring the boys instead of the girls.
"(The work) is very worthwhile and rewarding," he said. "One of the real benefits is finding out what kids think today."
And according to Weeks, "Kids have the same problems (today) my kids had."
Al Wichperman is a Girl Scout leader, a job most persons consider unusual for a man. But Wichperman took the job for a good reason: There was a need.
Last fall, scouting officials in Falls Church were having trouble finding a leader for a group of junior high schools girls. Although neither of his daughters were in the troop, Wichperman said, they had been active in scouting, and he recognized the need for the troop.
"It looked like it would be difficult to find a leader," he said. "I didn't want to see the troop fold."
He said he is "thoroughly enjoying" the experience because it allows him to "see a cross-section of society."
Finding enough time is sometimes a problem, Wichperman said, yet when it's important, the time is there.
"No matter what you're doing in life you make time," he said. "(People always) find the time to do what they're involved in."
Wichperman believes it is important for men to become more involved with groups such as Girl Scouts, since many mothers, who have often been the backbone of scouting, are working outside the home in increasing numbers.
Suzanne Speck is a housewife and mother who works one day a week as a volunteer. In some ways, she could easily fit the stereotype of middle-class housewife, who women's organizations say have been exploited as volunteers. But Speck refuses to believe that image.
"Being a volunteer is not a down term for me," she said, because her volunteer work is centered around her professional interests.
Speck, who was a social worker before her two children were born, has been working as a volunteer in the Alexandria Department of Social Services for the past six months. She screens food stamp recipients "so the professionals don't have to spend so much time . . . with information that is easy to get," she said.
Her volunteer work has filled a specific need for Speck - to stay in contact with her professional interests, while allowing her to devote herself full time to her family, she said. And it brings its rewards.
"The service they perform for me is to keep me informed of the kind of work I'd done before and may go back to," she said. "The rewards you get from any volunteer activities - you don't get money - is internal."
Speck, who also works with the Alexandria League of Women Voters, said volunteers today are today are looking for something they find challenging and stimulating.
"People don't want to be licking envelopes," she said. "They want to be useful."