Scott County

Federal survey finds Lexington volunteers a lot

A new federal survey shows that Lexington has lots of generous folks.

Released Monday by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the study ranked the Lexington metropolitan area 15th on a list of 75 midsized U.S. cities that volunteer the most.

“People tend to think that your average volunteer has a lot of time on their hands; in fact they're often the busiest people,” said corporation senior adviser Susannah Washburn said. “The typical volunteer is actually a married woman with two or more kids and a full time job.”

The corporation, which also runs Americorps and tracks national service trends, based its findings on a questionnaire attached to the U.S. Census Bureau survey for the past six years. The results were used to gauge community involvement, including volunteerism and tendencies towards civil service such as voting and attending city meetings.

Lexington's 15 million volunteer hours in 2007 were worth $295.8 million, the study said, at an hourly value of $19.51.

Ginny Ramsey, co-founder of the Catholic Action Center in Lexington, said she isn't surprised that Lexington fared so well.

“This is an extremely unusual community, in that there is just so much giving,” she said.

A former tax accountant, Ramsey helped start the Catholic Action Center nine years ago. Lexington's religious groups account for half of all volunteers, 20 points above the national average.

Kentucky ranked in the middle of the pack, with the 26th-highest rate of volunteerism among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., while both Louisville and Lexington ranked 15th on lists of large and midsized cities respectively.

Lexington citizens received high marks not only for number of volunteers, 36 percent, but also for sticking with their service. Nationwide, the volunteer retention rate stands at 65 percent and has been dropping from year to year, but Lexington retains 77 percent of its volunteers from year to year.

Washburn's organization used the survey date to create a list of suggestions for communities to increase rates of volunteerism and retain current volunteers.

Most important to fostering a sense of volunteerism, Washburn said, is for schools and businesses to offer meaningful service opportunities.

Toyota, the Lexington metropolitan area's largest employer, began pushing volunteerism years ago.

“Giving back to the community is something we really try to stress,” said Kim Menke, manager of community services at the Georgetown plant.

Toyota offers donations to employees' charities of choice if they dedicate a certain number of hours to service, and makes a point to recognize the company's most dedicated volunteers. The company also organizes an annual company-wide service day.

Because the survey was coupled with the census, analysts were able to track more than volunteerism. The study found that volunteers typically have better social networks, watch less TV, make more money and even live longer.

While the cause of Lexington's fervent volunteerism isn't completely clear, Ramsey thinks it may have something to do with mandatory volunteering in grade school and University of Kentucky's involvement in the community.

Menke thinks it's simpler than that.

“It's the culture here in Central Kentucky,” he said. “That people want to give back, you know, I think we're just raised that way.”