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Report: Three-quarters of NH folks offer a helping hand

They coach our kids, help out in classrooms, minister in their churches, work for political candidates, care for the poor and serve on town boards.

Where would New Hampshire be without volunteers?

According to a recent report by the Corporation for National & Community Service, more than 314,000 Granite Staters gave 33.7 million hours in 2011 in volunteer service, valued at more than $700 million.

According to the CNCS report, "Volunteering and Civic Life in America," the rate of volunteerism is on the way up for the first time since 2007. In 2011, 29.4 percent of New Hampshire residents 16 and up volunteered; that ranks the state 19th in the nation.

One of those volunteers is Bob Lucas of Franklin, who moved with his wife, Diana, to the state's smallest city two-and-a-half years ago after he retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Lucas, 59, wasted little time getting involved in his adopted city. He agreed to fill a vacant spot on the school board, then joined the board of Choose Franklin, a civic group that promotes the city and sponsors community events.

He works with a group called HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living), which promotes activities from healthier school lunches to hiking trail access. And he serves on the mayor's drug task force, which focuses on outreach to youngsters.

Lucas said Franklin's reputation as a downtrodden city is undeserved. "It's really changing for the better."

And he wanted to be a part of that change, he said. "I'd much rather be part of a group of people who are trying to make things better rather than to sit back and complain about things."

Helping your neighbors is a New England tradition, Lucas said. Just last Sunday night, he was returning from a family funeral in Maine, dreading the 30 inches of snow awaiting him.

He arrived home to a driveway cleared to the blacktop. "My neighbors had come over and cleared the snow, without anybody ever saying a word or leaving a note that they did it."

In fact, in the CNCS report, New Hampshire ranked third-highest in the nation (behind Utah and West Virginia) for the percentage of folks who said they did favors for their neighbors: 74 percent.

Katie Merrow is vice president of program at New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. She said volunteerism is critical, especially in the smaller, rural communities.

"It's the lifeblood of the community, the person-to-person connection," she said.

"We don't always have money, we don't always have huge government structures and formal programs, but boy, people are willing to pitch in and help, and that's critically important for how we bind our communities together and keep the communities going."

Merrow said the state's demographic makeup is "the envy of the other states." There's a large working-age population and a lot of young retirees who are healthy, educated and have resources, she said.

"It's a tough economy. The financial capital is thin," she said. "But we have incredible human capital."

With that in mind, the Charitable Foundation is partnering with the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits to launch an initiative to train organizations how to seek out and best utilize these talented volunteers.

Gretchen Berger-Wabuti is executive director of Volunteer NH, a nonprofit group that promotes volunteer service.

With federal and state budgets shrinking and social service needs growing since the economic downturn, she said volunteerism has become less of a "nicety" and more of a necessity. "We're relying more and more on the services of friends and neighbors."

Her organization hosts a web-based volunteer match program called "VRecruiter." Last year, she said, nearly 1,000 individuals used the site to find volunteer opportunities at nearly 400 organizations.

According to the CNCS report, one in three New Hampshire residents aged 65 to 74 volunteer.

Bernie Manor, 74, started volunteering in his town of Hudson even before he retired from the Army Corps of Engineers in 1994.

First he joined the planning board and conservation commission. Then, after his four children all finished high school, he volunteered to serve on the building committees for one new school and a major addition to another.

He also served as clerk of the works when the town built a new library, and he's currently working on a project to rehab an historic train station that's been moved to Benson Park.

Then there's his work on a proposal for a new senior center that comes up for a town meeting vote next month. And, he added almost as an afterthought, "I'm also on the sewer committee and the water committee."

"Any time there was something coming up in town, I'd always be the first guy they'd come looking for," he said.

One of Manor's long-standing hobbies was fixing up old cars. So it only made sense for him to offer to rehab a 1911 Maxwell automobile, acquired by the historical society, that used to deliver mail in town.

To find a volunteer opportunity in your community, visit: volunteernh.org.



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