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North Shore volunteers: The lifeblood of our communities

Lifeblood: the indispensable factor or influence that gives something its strength and vitality.

As we approach the Thanksgiving and holiday season, many of us think back on what the past year has brought to us in regard to blessings and struggles.

While our international and national news often seems to be full of conflict and tragedy, fortunately, there are also many things to be grateful for in our beautiful northeast Minnesota.

Without doubt, one of the most amazing and positive things about our area is the tremendous contribution made by our local volunteers.

I am so fortunate to work as Lake and Cook counties coordinator for RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) and Northland Volunteer Center, through the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency. In this role, I have been blessed to meet hundreds of our senior volunteers and younger volunteers and families that give of their time, skills and passions to make our communities strong and vital.

In fact, over the past few years, RSVP and Northland volunteers have averaged 35,000 hours of helping others. This work has been done by providing food, support and transportation to our neighbors; sharing our wonderful heritage; offering social connections and exercise classes for people; making beautiful quilts and crafts; keeping our lands beautiful; and educating and enriching all of us through our schools, folk houses, senior centers, libraries, museums and nature centers.

While the 35,000 hours are amazing, it is most likely only a portion of the full volunteer effort that exists in Lake and Cook counties.

What most people don't realize is how much it would cost our area if we had to replace this volunteer work with paid labor. The estimated value of volunteer time per hour is $24.14, according to the independent sector. If our nonprofit organizations and businesses had to pay for all the work being done by volunteers, it would amount to more than $750,000 annually.

While this number is amazing, it doesn't capture the true value of how our volunteers truly are the lifeblood of our communities.

The lifeblood of a community is the energy that gives it the strength, vitality and connection that is so critical to a community's health.

I see this lifeblood daily in the 90-year old volunteers who still show up to help make quilts for needy people, or visit others who are in care centers.

I see this energy in the countless young and older people who show up to help at our food shelves or Ruby's Pantry.

I see this dedication in the way our neighbors put in countless hours providing celebrations, festivals, dinners, services and classes.

And I am humbled and so thankful that I am able to live in work in an area where so many people show their caring in whatever way or amount they can.

And yet, there is always a need for more volunteers. Every organization I work with struggles to meet the needs of their organization, and could use more help. Even if you only have a couple of hours per year, or if you have physical or other challenges, there is a way to volunteer.

At this reflective time of year, please consider joining the wonderful group of volunteers who are working so hard to keep our area a safe, healthy and amazing place to live.

And most of all, thank you so much to our Lake and Cook counties volunteers.

Arrowhead RSVP is part of Senior Corps and sponsored by the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency. Funding is provided by the Corporation for National & Community Service, Minnesota Board on Aging and Lake and St. Louis counties. Reach Nancy Frischmann, RSVP coordinator, at 218-226-8809.

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