Got time on your hands? Want to do something to benefit your community? At a time when the economy is struggling and unemployment hovers above 10 percent, volunteerism is a way for individuals to do meaningful if unpaid work and for financially-strapped organizations to get help to fulfill their mission.
“Somebody has to do it.” – Terry Ryan
‘Somebody has to do it’
Terry Ryan lives in downtown Jersey City’s Hamilton Park area with her husband. Ryan started volunteering about two weeks ago at the Liberty Humane Society, the animal shelter located near the Liberty Science Center in the city’s Bergen-Lafayette section, after visiting the shelter last month to donate pet food.
“I asked [management] what help they needed the most,” Ryan said. “They said they needed two things – dog walking and fostering kittens.”
Ryan, a longtime animal lover, is now doing both, coming to the shelter almost every day and walking dogs for a few hours. She has brought three kittens with health issues into her home to take care of them. She volunteers despite a busy schedule as a graduate student and owner of a small business.
“I started to feel like there is always an excuse for why you can’t do something like volunteering,” Ryan said. “Somebody has to do it.”
Downtown Jersey City resident Sara Flounders is a freelance bookkeeper and a longtime activist who volunteers with the Jersey City Peace Movement (JCPM), an all-volunteer organization whose members participate in antiwar and social justice activities.
Flounders said volunteering with JCPM is about being involved with a group that is good at “connecting the dots” between macro issues, like massive military spending, and micro issues like cuts in local social services.
“A lot of volunteer activism is about people understanding that they have options, and that their interests are different from the powers that be,” Flounders said.
Finding a few good people
Liberty Humane Society’s volunteer and events coordinator Daria Benstead estimates that if 30 people show up at one of the volunteer orientations the shelter holds every month, 10 will come back and actually volunteer. But Benstead is not worried about a shortage of volunteers any time soon. She has approximately 500 volunteer applications on file.
Benstead said the secret to keeping volunteers is being sympathetic to their status.
“Many of the people who volunteer have full-time jobs but do it because they are such great animal lovers,” Benstead said. “I find the more pressure I put on people, the more they’re turned off. I try to make it as casual, not so much of a threat.”
She said the importance of the volunteers cannot be overstated.
“Any time they can give these animals some attention and affection, it helps, since the main source of contact they have is with these humans,” Benstead said.
Erik Anders-Nilsson, the co-founder of the Jersey City Peace Movement, said volunteers help make events happen, such as “Stop the War Sundays” at the Journal Square Fountain the last Sunday of each month. They also help feed the homeless, and have spoken out on local issues such as the recent closing of several library branches. He said since 2003, the JCPM has gathered an e-mail list of 600 volunteers and 25 core organizers.
“For our group, they have a different loyalty when you not are getting paid as opposed to getting paid,” Nilsson said. “You are doing this work for the love of humanity.”
Other groups that have used volunteers on local projects include Habitat for Humanity in Jersey City, CASA (a group that advocates for kids in foster care), and Jersey Cares. Jersey Cares is based in Newark but mails out lists each month of local projects that need participants for a few hours, including working at area soup kitchens and caring for the babies at Hudson Cradle in Jersey City.
How to volunteer
Anyone interested in volunteering for the mural painting at Public School 5 as part of Jersey Cares MLK Volunteer Day, this Monday from 9 a.m. – noon, can go to the website http://www.jerseycares.org to get more information.
To help out with the homeless count, call (201) 668-0546 or e-mail Joanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To volunteer with the Liberty Humane Society contact Daria at (201) 547-4147 or e-mail email@example.com.
To learn more about the Jersey City Peace Movement, visit www.jcpm.org.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.