As unemployment rate increases, more individuals choose to spend time volunteering
Projects Abroad, Peace Corps experience influx of applications
Published: Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 12:03
While the economy continues to bust worldwide, the volunteer industry is booming, as more and more people are no longer obligated to time-constraining jobs and are looking to volunteer work to fill the time void.
In recent months, organizations like Projects Abroad and Peace Corps have seen record increases in people's willingness to volunteer. Projects Abroad, a company that sends paying volunteers to developing countries, has reported a 60 percent increase in the number of applicants ages 25 years and older in 2008. They credit this boost to the failing economy. Additionally, the Peace Corps has seen a 16 percent rise in applications for the fiscal year 2009 — the biggest jump in over five years.
Jessye Crowe-Rothstein, a representative and U.S. program advisor for Projects Abroad, said that with the unemployment rate at 7.6% in the United States, people out of work are looking for things to do with their extra time.
"There is definitely the aspect that people are looking to fill the time that a job otherwise would have," Crowe-Rothstein told the Daily. "People are finding themselves out of jobs and are using it as an opportunity to get something done that they've wanted to do for a while, but might not have been able to because of the time constraints of their job."
Crowe-Rothstein added that a service trip could ultimately help laid-off workers in the job hunt, as it is a great addition to a resume.
"For those thinking about switching industries, a volunteer trip might boost their résumé a bit and give them opportunities to meet and network with new people," she said.
While Projects Abroad relates their rise in applications directly to the economy, the Peace Corps maintains that an increase in applications just shows Americans' continued interest in supporting countries in need, according to Asha Michener, a representative for the Peace Corps.
"The main reason applicants want to join the Peace Corps is to serve," Michener said in an e-mail to the Daily. "It is a very personal decision and a big commitment to serve as a volunteer in a developing country for two years, and most people would not base such a decision on the current economic status."
Michener also credited the Peace Corps' recent marketing campaigns and President Barack Obama's call to service as inspiration for many to apply to serve in the Peace Corps.
"There is a growing emphasis on national service, perhaps inspired by Barack Obama coming into office," she said. "The increase in applications among volunteers in general can be traced to our effective outreach campaign, which includes direct mail pieces, newspaper and online advertising and weekly information sessions around New England. Americans are ready to serve — even in a down economy. For those who are up to the challenge, serving in the Peace Corps overseas in a developing country is a good fit."
The United States has also been seeing its own internal increase in volunteering, and Tufts is no exception. Junior Fred Huang, co-president of the Leonard Carmichael Society (LCS), said that several of their projects have been experiencing an overload of volunteers, which actually makes it more difficult to plan volunteer trips.
"A couple of our groups have mentioned that there has been a general influx of volunteers … and a decrease of available supplies," he said. "For example, our shelters group and our hunger project group have seen a huge outpouring in student support. They are trying to book places at the shelters that they work with, but they are having trouble finding times to go in because there are so many other volunteers already taking those spots."
But despite increased interest, the faltering economy has caused financial problems for LCS. According to senior Valerie Pastorelle, program coordinator for Tufts Best Buddies, the LCS programs Best Buddies and Kids to College have lost funding from their respective national organizations, causing many logistical issues.
"Our [Best Buddies] chapter at Tufts was one of the ones that they stopped funding," Pastorelle said. "We can still do what we used to, but we just need to change a bunch of things. We were covered under their Best Buddies insurance, so it's details like that that we've had to work out with our host site. Also, now that we can't use the Best Buddies name and logo, we just kind of need to form our own group with our own name."