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“Americans are the most giving people on earth,” a British friend recently told me. “No other country places such an emphasis on volunteering and giving back.” Naturally, I was inclined to agree. Statistically, my British friend’s observation rings true.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26.8% of Americans volunteered at a nonprofit last year. Keep in mind; this number only takes into consideration the adults that volunteer, anyone under 18 does not count. When you factor in students, many of whom are required to perform hundreds of community service hours every year, that number jumps even higher.

Most senior living communities are fortunate enough to have access to volunteers. In fact, communities receiving Medicare or Medicaid must have 5% of resident care provided by volunteers, according to the HFA.

Need help attracting volunteers to your community? Here are a few ways you can do just that:

1. Reach Out: Use churches, schools and community centers to help spread the word that your community is seeking volunteers. Many of these organizations have members who are actively looking for volunteer opportunities. Be specific about any requirements you may have, the skills you are looking for, and your degree of flexibility. Consider hosting a volunteer info session or training, if required.

2. Make it Fun: Skilled care and nursing must be left to professionals, but volunteers will enjoy the social aspect of helping in your community, from organizing bingo to hosting a dance to starting a book club. Building relationships with residents are one of the advantages of volunteerism. Put high school students to work sprucing up community bulletin boards, helping with mailings, or simply socializing with residents. High school and college students are invaluable at helping residents with email, Facebook, and other technology challenges. Older, more trained volunteers can help by providing conversation and companionship to a lonely resident.

3. Get Organized: Nothing is more frustrating, for the volunteer and the staff than someone standing around waiting for something to do. Designate an official to be in charge of volunteers, and create a schedule so that you will be prepared when they arrive for a shift. Don’t forget that a little praise and encouragement goes a long way towards establishing a great team of volunteers.

Whether they provide a compassionate shoulder to cry on, or simply play a mean game of Canasta, volunteers can enrich your community and offer staff some much-needed assistance. Treat them well, and they will be a valuable part of your community.

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