Opinion

Volunteer shortage slows progress in FW

Last week, I wrote about Federal Way natives that have stayed here and are helping build a better community in the F-Dub.

This week, we’ll look at another side of community improvement: The limited pool of volunteers.

Over the years, a number of people have observed that our community pool of volunteers is a relatively shallow one. If you attend enough community events — the Kiwanis Salmon Bake, the Boys and Girls Club Breakfast, FUSION or (shameless plug) next week’s Ruby Dance — you often see the same people. You’ll also see many of the same faces at the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce luncheon, afternoon Kiwanis, morning Rotary, or planting native Western red cedars at the West Hylebos Wetlands.

At the schools and churches — one of the biggest arenas for volunteering — a small, dedicated group often does the PTA activities and most of the volunteer work. When it comes to trying to find volunteers for nonprofit boards, it seems like we’re often all chasing the same people.

The good side of this, of course, is that Federal Way has a strong tradition of volunteering and an excellent core of really wonderful volunteers. These people get things done and the community is better for it.

Our volunteer base also provides a source of future leaders. Volunteering can often be a launching pad to other leadership positions in the community. Skip Priest originally got involved in the community as a concerned dad trying to slow down traffic in his neighborhood. That led to the city council and the state Legislature. Former Federal Way City Council member and Federal Way Symphony CEO Mary Gates got her start in public life by volunteering for the Friends of the Hylebos back in the early 1980s.

While no one has quantified the size of Federal Way’s pool of active volunteers, it does seem small compared to our population of more than 80,000. This is a challenge for Federal Way. As we grow as a city and make good on our desire to build a mature economy and community, we will need a larger volunteer base. Population growth and economic development come with growing community needs, and the existing volunteer base is stretched thin already.

Growing the volunteer base is easier said than done. Volunteering takes time and many in our community are already squeezed between the demands of work and family life. Who knows how many potential volunteers we have out there that would join up for the Salmon Bake — if they weren’t busy driving their kids between school, soccer practice and dance classes?

Granted, not everyone has a family with two incomes and multiple kids, but even the childless couples and empty-nesters I know still feel crushed by time demands. That leaves precious little time to delve into the PTA or volunteer at the Multi-Service Center.

The Federal Way Chamber’s Advancing Leadership program was designed to cultivate future volunteers and community leaders. Teri Hickel, the program’s executive director, says that time is a definite factor complicating volunteer’s lives. She observes that it’s important for groups to offer a range of meaningful volunteer opportunities so that people can find something that fits their interests and their lifestyle.

Volunteer agencies also need to give thought about how best to use the existing volunteer base to identify, recruit and mentor new volunteers and future community leaders.

The supply side is just as important. Yes, we are busy and legitimately so. But building community requires some personal sacrifice.

Federal Wayers who aren’t currently involved in a cause need to think about stepping up. Find something in the community that you’re passionate about and donate your time to make it better. Even an hour every week can make a huge difference.

Gratuitous Thanks Dept.

As anyone who reads this column (yes, all three of you!) knows, I’m a huge fan of the English soccer team, Arsenal FC. Knowing this, two friends — one of whom recently visited England — collaborated to bring back a brand spanking new official Arsenal FC jersey (No. 8, midfielder Samir Nasri) for me to wear. It’s friends like these that make life in Federal Way wonderful. Thanks, guys!

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos, a nonprofit conservation organization working to preserve and restore Hylebos Creek and the West Hylebos Wetlands. Contact: chinook@hylebos.org.

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