BASED ON COMMUNITY FORUM, MAY 11, 2016
HELD AT: WESTERN FOLK LIFE CENTER, ELKO, NEV.
FACILITATED BY: AMBER MARTIN-JAHN AND JILL BAKER-TINGEY
Every three years, Nevada Volunteers revises and updates their State Service Plan. The State Service Plan is a strategic planning document developed to assess the robustness of voluntarism across the state, increase stronger partnerships for volunteerism and identify strategies to strengthen volunteer and engagement efforts across Nevada. As part of the planning process, Nevada Volunteers in partnership with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension conducted six community forums across the state in Reno, Fallon, Las Vegas, Mesquite, Elko and Tonopah in spring of 2016 as a means of outreach to both rural and urban communities. The purpose of the forums was to gather information and share ideas about volunteerism, service and community engagement.
On May 11, 2016, Nevada Volunteers and Cooperative Extension hosted a Community Forum in Elko, Nev. Information gathered from the forums will be incorporated into the Nevada Volunteers three-year State Plan of Service and can be accessed here: Nevada Volunteers. The Report to the Community reflects only the information provided by the specific community.
Announcements of the Forums were provided through media release, email contacts, local community calendars, and other communication channels used by Nevada Volunteers. An effort was made to encourage participation from a wide variety of stakeholders including businesses, individual volunteers, faith-based groups, nonprofits, civic organizations, and municipal or governmental agencies. Forum sites were selected to have a wide representation of the state’s geographic uniqueness. Total Attendance for all six forums across the state included 106 participants.
Twenty-eight people registered for the Elko Community Forum, with 21 people attending the forum. Participants represented each of the five categories (individual, government, non-profit, faith-based and civic groups, and business). The contents of this report include the information and thoughts about the community as seen from the perspective of these participants. This report is not intended to be a comprehensive picture of the entire area, but merely a snapshot as provided by those in attendance.
Strong resilient communities have layers of connections that assure residents have access to and relationships with others and to services and activities they need. Community volunteerism and engagement are important components to a healthy and resilient community. A term often used to describe a network of community engagement and social trust is Social Capital. Social Capital describes the various social networks with which people have access to resources including the type and depth of relationships and connections within a community. The number of volunteers within a community is a strong measure of community engagement and one aspect of social capital. Higher rates of volunteerism and engagement in a community are associated with improving government services, preventing crime, increasing graduation rates, fostering economic development and increased community responsibility for problems solving (Levine 2013; Mathews 2014; Opportunity Nation 2014; Pancer 2015; Putnam 1995; and Schneider 2004).
In addition to building social capital, volunteer service has positive effects on volunteers as individuals. Volunteers report greater life satisfaction and better physical health than do non-volunteers, and their life satisfaction and physical health improves at a greater rate as a result of volunteering. Interestingly, those who give support through volunteering experience greater health benefits than those who receive support through these activities, especially among the elderly (Wu 2011).
Participants in the Elko forum were provided information from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) regarding volunteerism and engagement. Based on this data as outlined in the report Volunteering and Civic Life in America, 19.4 percent of Nevadans volunteer, compared to the national volunteerism average of 25 percent, thus ranking Nevada 49th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Nevadans who did volunteer in 2014 contributed 56.9 million hours of service, as compared to the national average of 7.9 billion hours of service (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2014). In addition, Robert Putnam’s assessment of Social Capital across all 50 states classified Nevada’s social capital as “Very Low” (Putnam 2000, p.293).
Despite Nevada’s low ranking in the Volunteering and Civic Life in America report, residents consistently comment the statistics from the U.S. Census and other reports do not reflect the real situation in Nevada. The national data was shared with participants in the forum. Participants were asked to provide one to a few words in reaction to this national data. Prompting questions included “Do you find yourself in this data?”, “Do you feel this is reflective of your community?”, and “Does this surprise you?”. Participants’ reactions to these data points are captured and depicted as a Word Cloud (Figure 1). A word cloud was used to visualize the participant reactions to the data, as a “snapshot” of a response. Word clouds identify trends or patterns that can often be difficult to visualize. A word cloud is a tool to present qualitative data by using the frequency of the words provided. The more prominent a word is displayed on the cloud, the higher frequency it was cited by participants.
Figure 1. Participant reactions to U.S. Census data ranking Nevada 49th among 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Residents who are engaged and do volunteer have strong beliefs about the value of volunteerism in their community, and these dedicated residents are clearly making a difference. Their service and commitment represents a story of volunteerism that goes well beyond metrics and national data. Nevada has many giving, talented and committed people engaging in issues that matter to them and benefit their community.
What opportunities exist in Elko?
Participants in the forum were provided a framework that included businesses, nonprofits, civic or faith-based groups, municipalities or governmental entities, and individuals (Figure 2). The framework was provided to highlight what is needed to have a flourishing volunteer infrastructure. Participants were asked to describe what existed in the community related to each of those areas. The conversation in every community included comments from participants about how difficult it was to actually know what was available and what was happening around opportunities for engagement and volunteerism. Participants identified 81 entities that offer volunteer and engagement opportunities within the Elko community (Figure 3).
How are volunteer efforts leveraged across various sectors?
To examine the degree to which community sectors work together or “network” to have greater impact, each community was asked to provide examples of volunteer activities that involved collaboration among the sectors. Building a community network is vital to enhancing and engaging more citizens in volunteering and service. The cross-sector network concept was depicted in another visual graphic (Figure 4), and participants were asked to describe the type of connections and networks that they individually use or were aware of in the community. Examples provided by participants in the forum of such networks are listed below (Figure 5). The examples provided are not comprehensive but merely provide a few examples as shared by participants in the forum. Figure
In summary to the question “How are volunteer efforts leveraged across various sectors?”, a picture that emerges is one of dedicated people and organizations operating as best they can to improve and support issues in their community. While each sector has its champions and leaders who are excelling, Nevada currently lacks the infrastructure to strengthen and leverage opportunities across the state. Although there is a strong “will” of caring and dedicated people in the community, an infrastructure to strengthen the will of organizations and individuals does not currently exist. Based on the discussion, it seems Elko has a strong community network among the various entities with some cross-over occurring among nonprofits, businesses, government entities and municipalities, and faith-based and civic organizations. Elko appears to have a fairly robust network of social capital, which will help maintain community resiliency. The formal structures appear strong and not dependent upon one or two individuals within the community. Although key community leaders are essential in a community, Elko does not seem to be heavily dependent on just a few individuals, as some smaller, rural communities in Nevada are. While few civic or faith-based entities were listed, they were mentioned in the discussion frequently as primary ways links were made for services and volunteer efforts.
What strategies would strengthen volunteerism in the community?
Finally, participants were presented with examples of possible strategies from surveys and national best practices that enhance volunteerism. Participants were asked to identify a few strategies that they felt had the most potential for moving volunteering and service forward in Elko. Participants identified the following two strategies as the top priorities to strengthen volunteerism in the community. A list of strategies with specific comments are included in Table 1.
(1) Community-based volunteer information or connector hub. (14 votes)
(2) Increase the visibility of volunteer opportunities/impact. (14 votes)
Among all six communities, participants in both urban and rural settings conveyed a consistent message of three core themes.
Theme 1. Nevada needs to have a volunteer connector or “hub” system in local communities, whether virtual or physical, to serve as a place for all things volunteer-related.
Theme 2. Nevada needs to increase the visibility of volunteer needs, volunteer efforts and volunteer impact to widen the awareness and interest of community members and leaders in local areas. This awareness can help highlight the power and impact of volunteer work.
Theme 3. Communities need training to be provided (either locally or regionally) for volunteer managers and programs to increase the effectiveness and retention of volunteers.
Elko has a changing economy and, similarly, the infrastructure underlying the volunteer efforts seems to be changing resulting in a need to find new ways to resource and support volunteer efforts. Traditional ways of doing engagement are not working as well as in the past. Elko as a community could benefit from stronger leadership and individual connections among interested stakeholders to develop peer networking and a way to identify individual needs. Barriers to greater linking stem from shifting business priorities in the area, governmental rules, language barriers, and a lack of knowledge about who to go to for various resources or support.
Nonprofits need support to integrate the practices for sound financial oversight, management, personnel practices and resource development. This need for capacity within the nonprofit sector impacts a community’s ability to attract funding and grant resources from local, state and federal sources, and to connect with business resources. Using skilled professionals in volunteer positions will boost nonprofit capacity at the local level. This practice is emerging as a national trend, but it needs structure and support to be widely applied in Nevada.
Nevada Volunteers and Cooperative Extension are grateful for the time, interest and energy given by these local residents to participate in the forum. As follow-up to the forum, this report is being provided to each participant, and the information is being used as a foundation for the development of the State Service Plan, which will guide the efforts and resources of Nevada Volunteers for the next three years.
Potential next steps include the convening of individuals and organizations to continue the conversation to implement strategies to support further engagement of citizens; identifying a liaison in each community who would serve as a contact point for volunteer information and awareness, working in tandem with Nevada Volunteers; and promoting the utilization of national service resources as a mechanism for meeting community needs.
Corporation for National and Community Service. “Volunteering and Civic Life in America 2015”. Retrieved January 10, 2016
Huiting Wu (2011). “Social Impact of Volunteerism” Points of Light Institute. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
Levine, P. (2013). We are the ones we have been waiting for: The promise of civic renewal in America. Oxford University Press, New York.
Mathews, D. (2014). The Ecology of Democracy. Finding ways to have a stronger hand in shaping our future. Kettering Foundation Press. Dayton, Ohio.
Opportunity Nation (2014). Connecting Youth and Strengthening Communities. The data behind civic engagement and economic opportunity. In Partnership with Measure of America. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
Pancer, S. (2015). The Psychology of Citizenship and Civic Engagement. Oxford University Press. New York.
Putnam, R. (1995). “Tuning In, Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America.” Political Science and Politics, Vol 28, No. 4. Pp. 664-683. American Political Science Association.
Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling Alone: The collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Schneider, J. (2004). The Role of Social Capital in Building Healthy Communities. A Policy Paper produced for the Annie E Casey Foundation. November 2004. Retrieved November 10, 2015.