Turning the 'Day of Service' into a longer commitment

US-POLITICS-INAUGURATION-DAY OF SERVICE

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US President Barack Obama (R) and First Lady Michelle Obama greet a crowd at Burrville Elementary School after participating in National Day of Service on January 19, 2013 in Washington DC, as part of the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

US-POLITICS-INAUGURATION-DAY OF SERVICE

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Presidential Inaugural Committee Co-Chair Eva Longoria arrives so peak at a service summit on the National Mall, January 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Biden, Volunteers Participate In National Day Of Service

Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden (R) kisses his wife Jill Biden (2nd R) as volunteers look on during a Unite America in Service event on the National Day of Service as part of the 57th Presidential Inauguration January 19, 2013 at the DC Armory in Washington, DC. Vice President Biden and his family joined volunteers to pack care kits filled with necessities for deployed U.S. Service Members, Wounded Warriors, Veterans and First Responders.

Obamas Participate In National Day Of Service

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President Barack Obama (R) and first lady Michelle Obama (L) help Jeff Franco (2L), Executive Director of City Year, and Sheri Fisher, a City Year employee, to stain a bookshelf at Burrville Elementary School January 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.


This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people — including President Obama and his family — are participating in volunteer activities around the country. Saturday's National Day of Service kicks off the president's second inauguration and honors Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

As budgets tighten and personal schedules fill, nonprofits are looking for new ways to attract extra helpers, and organizers for the national event hope it will lead to a permanent boost in volunteerism.

Willingness To Give Back

Volunteers, by their very nature, are an upbeat crowd. That includes a group of a dozen volunteers who came to Tyler Elementary School in Washington, D.C., Friday to organize the school library. Right now, the library is kind of a mess, and the kids can't check out books. There's no librarian here because of school budget cuts.

It's one of thousands of service projects being held over this pre-inaugural weekend. Lisa McBride came with colleagues from her conference planning company in Virginia. She says volunteering helps them to work together better, but it also just feels good.

"Some of us are so privileged, and other people, such as this school, run on volunteers like us and the willingness of people to volunteer and give back," she says.

That's what motivates lots of people: teenagers, working parents, retirees. Tens of millions of Americans volunteer each year. Still, the nation's volunteer rate is less than 27 percent, about the same as it's been over the past decade. Volunteer groups are trying to make that number grow.

Where There's A Will ...

Jacki Coyle and two of her colleagues from Shepherd's Table, a Maryland nonprofit, are setting up a booth in a huge tent on the National Mall. About 100 groups are participating there Saturday in what the Presidential Inaugural Committee calls a "Service Summit." The purpose is to help people learn about volunteering and to sign them up. Coyle says sometimes people doubt they can have any impact.

"Or somebody might feel ... overburdened. They have so many things in their life already," she says. "I would just say to people, if you give an hour once a month, that makes a difference."

Her organization, which serves the homeless, relies on more than 1,000 volunteers a year. Surprisingly, surveys show that those who volunteer the most are some of the busiest people around: working mothers.

'Micro-Volunteering'

Nearby, Jennifer Burnside of the Junior League of Northern Virginia, is setting up a booth so volunteers can make cards to cheer up children who are ill or homeless.

"Inside the card kit, you'll be able to use foam, stickers, glitter and glue, and write a special message for a child in need," she says.

Burnside says the key to attracting volunteers these days is flexibility, letting them help in the evenings, on weekends or from home. Maybe volunteers could even work online, helping a charity with recordkeeping, for example.

Michelle Nunn heads Points of Light, the nation's largest volunteer organization, which was inspired by another president, George H.W. Bush. She says nonprofits have to be more creative as needs grow but budgets tighten.

"There's now what we call sort of 'micro-volunteering,' where if you actually have 15 minutes, there's little micro-assignments," she says. "You can help a nonprofit think about how they edit their funding letter or to come up with a great new slogan."

Or, she says, more retirees might be encouraged to volunteer with small stipends to help with transportation costs. Still, Nunn says the surest way to get people to help out, has always been just to ask — which is what this weekend is all about.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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