POSTED ON JULY 18, 2007:
Kindness of Strangers
Tulsa tops in volunteerism, study suggests
In the best interests of the city, we've taken the tough love approach to news the past few months about how Tulsa is trailing other cities regionally and nationally when it comes to crime prevention, tax structure, health indicators and other measurements of a city's progressiveness and quality of life.
So, it's refreshing to be able to report some good news for a change, which is that Tulsa is home to some of the most generous people in the nation, according to a new report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
"Volunteering in America: 2007 City Trends and Rankings" was released last week, and it examines trends in volunteering and community service in 50 of the largest metro areas in the country.
Tulsa ranks--not "above average," not "better than most," not as a Top 10 runner-up--but Numero Uno when it comes to the average number of volunteer hours given.
Tulsa metro area residents log an average of 60 volunteer hours per year, compared to the national average of 36.5 hours.
Las Vegas was dead last with an average of 20.5 hours per resident.
Only about one in three Tulsans, though, shoulder that pro bono workload with a volunteer rate of only 33.7 percent.
While that doesn't put Tulsa on top, it still isn't too shabby compared to the national average of 28.1 percent, putting the Tulsa metro area at No. 10 out of the 50 areas studied.
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. topped that category with a 40.5 percent volunteer rate, and "Sin City" trailed the list again, with only 14.4 percent of it population volunteering.
According to the report, 228,000 volunteers served 40.6 million hours per year in the Tulsa area between 2004 and 2006, which adds up to $762 million worth of service.
Tulsa's predominantly Christian demographic make-up played somewhat of a role in the area leading the nation in volunteer hours, according to Dr. Bob Grimm, the report's author.
"Religious volunteering is more common in Tulsa than in other parts of the country," he told UTW.
For many metro areas studied, faith-based programs made up the biggest part of the pie for where people gave their time, and Tulsa had one of the biggest pie pieces of that kind, with 40.3 percent of volunteer hours served in a religious outreach.
That doesn't account, however, for the numerous people who were motivated by their faith to volunteer in other areas, Grimm said, such as hospitals, youth mentoring programs and other forms of community service that aren't overtly "religious" in nature.
(And not to slight any of the practitioners of other religious traditions who volunteer their time in the Tulsa area, but this region isn't called "the Buckle of the Bible-belt" for nothing; more often than not, "religion" equals "Christian" in these here parts. But we still appreciate all the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, Druids, Shintoists, Taoists, Scientologists, Zeus-worshippers, Raelians, Baha'ists, and good-meaning secular humanists and anyone else we missed who volunteer their time.)
Religious faith wasn't the only determining factor, though, and "wasn't as big a predictor as you might assume," said Grimm.
He found that several other characteristics of metro areas commonly were also associated with high volunteer rates, such has high homeownership rates (which reflect an attachment to the community), short commuting times, high education levels and other socioeconomic conditions (Tulsa is a particularly wealthy city with lots of people who have lots of time on their hands), and the proliferation of non-profit groups that are able to retain volunteers.
So, along with its high church attendance, Tulsa might be a leading community for volunteering because it has the second shortest commuting time of the 50 metro areas examined, with 20.3 minutes compared to the national median of 25.2.
The benefits of Tulsan's characteristic altruism go beyond just good PR or warm-fuzzies for the volunteers, though. It's also a lifesaver for the city itself.
"The volunteer rate of a community also is an important indicator of its well-being and quality of life," said David Eisner, CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service.
"We at the Corporation believe volunteering is not just a nice thing to do, but a necessary part of solving social ills that have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable populations: the 37 million people who live in poverty, the 3.5 million people who are homeless, the 15 million children and youth in desperate need of a mentor or caring adult in their life, the tens of millions of students nationwide who struggle each day to improve academically, and the countless communities preparing for, responding to, and rebuilding after disasters," he also said.
For instance, the study points out, volunteers who serve as tutors can help increase academic test scores and improve graduation rates among youth in "disadvantaged circumstances," and children with parents in prison tend to break the cycle and avoid a similar life of crime if they meet with a mentor once a week.
Also, volunteers who serve in helping people who have served prison time to re-enter society tend to help them avoid recidivism.
And volunteering isn't just good--it's good for you, according to the report.
A growing number of national studies over the past 20 years have established a relationship between volunteering and individual well-being, it reads.
"On average, volunteers appear to live longer and have greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer," reads the report.
Those results were maintained even when other factors, like age, economic status, education levels and ethnicity were taken into account.
"Volunteering and good health tend to form a positive, self-reinforcing cycle for individuals and also appear to provide benefits for communities," said Grimm.
For those one out of three Tulsans who are bearing the weight of community service not taken up by the other two, the doctor warned, however, "It is important to note that individuals could experience more emotional and mental distress if overwhelmed by their volunteer work--such as substantial care-giving--or if they are among a handful of people trying to do all the volunteering for an area."
For those two slackers, Grimm said, "Since volunteering is valuable for communities and individuals, why isn't it even more prevalent?"
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