WASHINGTON – The spirit of volunteerism is thriving in the heartland, but not so much on the coasts.
Midwesterners are more likely to volunteer their time than are people elsewhere in the United States, according to a government study being released Monday. The highest rates were in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, where more than four in 10 adults volunteered.
"It's really about Minneapolis' commitment to the quality of life," said Michael Weber, president and chief executive of Volunteers of America of Minnesota. "If you look at the entire society, it says we will give back to the community and take care of our society."
The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency, used Census Bureau data to determine the share of people age 16 and older who had volunteered their time in the previous year.
The study provides three-year averages, for 2004 through 2006, for the 50 largest metropolitan areas.
Minneapolis-St. Paul was followed at the top by Salt Lake City; Austin, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; and Seattle.
Las Vegas had the lowest volunteer rate, 14.4 percent. It was joined at the bottom by Miami; New York; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Riverside, Calif.
Nationally, 26.7 percent of adults in 2006 said they had volunteered in the previous year. That compares with 28.8 percent in 2005 and 20.4 percent in 1989.
More than one-third of the people who volunteered in 2005 stopped in 2006.
"Volunteering has a leaky bucket," said Robert Grimm, an author of the report. "Many times people drop out because the activities are not challenging enough or they're not substantial enough."
In Minneapolis, Weber said his organization works hard to make sure activities are well organized, meaningful to the community and rewarding to volunteers.
"The person goes away saying, 'I feel good, I made a difference today,'" Weber said.
The study said several demographic and social factors appear to contribute to higher volunteer rates:
_Short commutes to work, which provide more time to volunteer.
_Home ownership, which promotes attachment to the community.
_High education levels, which increase civic involvement.
_High concentrations of nonprofit organizations providing opportunities to volunteer.
Volunteering can have a "positive, substantial impact on the life of a youth" or it can help an older person remain at home instead of moving into a nursing home, said Grimm, director of research and policy development for the federal agency.
"Volunteering is not something that's just nice to do, it's necessary to solve important community problems," he said.
Les Kuivanen of Minneapolis volunteers at an elementary school with other retirees from the manufacturing company Honeywell International. The retired engineer said volunteering is more rewarding when the activity matches his skills.
Kuivanen and other retirees teach students about electricity and magnetism. He said it is important for young students to learn about science and technology, maybe drawing interest in a future career choice.
"I wanted to volunteer because I wanted give back," Kuivanen said. "It's fun to golf and fish and hunt, and I do all that. But I wanted to do something that I thought was needed, to help others."