TOPEKA — Kansans volunteer, help neighbors and vote more than people in most other states, a new study shows.
About 36 percent of Kansas residents volunteered in recent years, making Kansas the seventh most volunteer-oriented state in the nation. Utah, Iowa and Minnesota led the pack. Florida, Nevada and New York finished in the last three spots.
The figures come from research by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that manages AmeriCorps and other volunteer initiatives, and the National Conference on Citizenship, a nonprofit that tracks civic engagement.
The new data fits with what Shelby Hoytal, executive director of the Kansas Volunteer Commission, has noticed for years. Kansas, along with several other Midwestern states, is packed with helpful people and consistently ranks in the top 10 for volunteer work.
But the freewill labor market has been changing. Hoytal said an increasing number of people want to perform work that further develops professional skills, helps develop new ones or has high-value results for whatever organization they're helping.
"They really want to know they're making an impact at that organization," she said. "And they don't want to just be stuffing envelopes."
And in a poor paid labor market, many students seek volunteer opportunities that provide experience that will help them find jobs.
Delane Butler, a spokesman for the United Way of the Plains, said his organization uses the statewide toll-free 211 number for people seeking help and also for people looking for volunteer opportunities. United Way uses a database to match people's skills and availability with volunteer openings at a variety of nonprofit agencies, many of which need more help than ever because of declining donations.
Often, when laid-off workers seek help, United Way will also let them know about volunteer opportunities that will keep them mentally active and engaged in the community, which can help them get hired.
The number of volunteer referrals keeps growing. In 2008, United Way provided 7,900 referrals. That grew to 10,400 last year and, so far, there have been 10,400 referrals this year, Butler said.
But many Kansans also help in less organized ways, such as solving neighborhood problems and helping out neighbors. The state ranked 14th in the nation in that respect. About 11 percent of folks have pitched in with work in their neighborhood. Utah, Alaska and Vermont led the nation.
Meanwhile, Kansas was 16th in the nation for working in civic groups and 22nd in voting.
A news release accompanying the data says the new research suggests that civic engagement improves after folks break the ice.
"Citizens who participate in one area of civic engagement, like volunteering, are more likely to get involved in groups, contact public officials, or work with neighbors," the release said.
About 13 percent had contacted a public official about something. Nearly 10 percent had purchased something or boycotted something based on their values. About 36 percent talk about politics frequently, while another 36 percent banter on that topic infrequently. And 28 percent didn't talk politics at all.