Statistics show Utah leads volunteering in 1 category, lags behind in many others

Posted at 10:22 PM, Feb 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-14 00:22:03-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah dominates the world of volunteering, or so it seems from statistics based on an exhaustive national poll.

The Corporation for National and Community Service's Volunteering and Civic Life in America report has shown Utah to lead the nation in the percentage of volunteers for 8 years running.

In Utah, 43.8 percent of adults volunteer compared with a national average at 26.5 percent. And even second place trails significantly—37.7 percent of Minnesotans volunteer on a regular basis.

Under closer scrutiny, however, Utah is actually extraordinary in one category of volunteering and average or below average at all others.

Utahns are devoted to their churches.

Utahns are so devoted to their churches that the numbers look like a misprint. Twenty nine percent of Utahns volunteer at church. The next highest state for church volunteerism is Idaho at 16.5 percent, and even Idaho stands out as the rest of the other states settle in between 5 percent and 15 percent church volunteerism.

Rick Foster is the manager of Humanitarian Services in North America for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he spoke about the service members of the LDS Church perform.

"We encourage members of our church to reach out and bless the lives of others," he said.

Shawn Teigan, a research analyst with the non-profit Utah Foundation, said church volunteerism contributes to the health of the broader community.

There's lots of evidence that suggests that volunteering helps make people happier and that volunteering helps the community," he said.

That said, when church volunteerism is removed from the equation: Utah has a volunteer deficit compared with the national average.

All-in-all, 14.5 percent of Utahns volunteer outside of church, compared with 16.5 percent nationally. And that below-average result holds up across all areas of volunteerism outside of church, including education, social services, health, civic activity and the arts.

Six percent of Utahns volunteer in schools compared with a 7 percent national average. That 1 percent increase is a more familiar problem in Utah, the teacher to student ratio.

Utah has 22 students for every teacher, compared with a 16 to one ratio nationwide. That ratio understates the number of class sizes, because it includes instructors in fields like special education.

FOX 13 News visited Jeri Hessing's Kindergarten class at Jordan Hills Elementary School in West Jordan. Mrs. Hessing has 22 five and six year olds in her class with no teacher's aide, so she relies on volunteer support.

Hessing has managed to recruit 13 parents to help in her class. She said without them, she could manage, barely, but there would be some chaotic moments.

Hessing said volunteers are more than just an extra pair of hands.

"I have to point out that one of the best things I've seen happen is to see a child's face light up when his or her mother walks into the room to volunteer,” Hessing said. “It is pure joy for that child to have that parent in here.”

FOX 13 News based this report on data from these sources:

Volunteering in America

Report from National Education Association. (Link may begin downloading file as PDF)