From The Beacon: Volunteers help communities grow

Today marks the beginning of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, an occasion that is especially important to local libraries. In this era when more people use the library than ever before, the Beaufort County library system continues to rely on our dedicated volunteers for support and participation in meeting the needs of our community.

Let's take a look at just one of our five branch libraries to demonstrate how volunteers positively impact our service to the public. During 2009, volunteers at the Hilton Head branch gave 1,555 hours of time to help with shelving activities alone. That figure doesn't include countless more volunteer hours that went into running a used bookshop in the front foyer six days a week, putting on programs such as book talks or movie screenings and helping out with children's story times and activities.

Volunteers in Bluffton, Beaufort, Lobeco and on St. Helena Island provide similar support to their branch libraries. Whether it's reading to children, folding brochures or helping with a program on financial literacy or tax preparation, volunteers across our library system make a difference every day.

If you're interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities at the library or in our greater community, stop by your local branch. Reference librarians keep handy a list of nonprofit groups in our area that might need help. If you have even greater ambitions, the library has some resources to guide you in taking your volunteering to a new level.

"Volunteer Vacations across America" By Sheryl Kayne: This guide offers basic information on volunteer opportunities throughout the United States. The beginning of the book provides a guide to help the reader choose the right volunteer opportunity. Included in the reference is information on the Caretta Research Project, an organization out of Savannah that uses volunteers for field work related to loggerhead sea turtles. Maybe you would prefer to step out of the Lowcountry and view the United States of America through Trails and Rails, a program run through the National Park Service and Amtrak.

"Volunteer Vacations: Short Term Adventures that Will Benefit You and Others" By Bill McMillon:This guide goes a step further than Kayne's, expanding its scope to include volunteer listings in places throughout the world including Europe, Central America and Canada. Perhaps you would like to research aquatic ecosystems with the Australian Tropical Research Foundation. Or maybe you would like to work on building a new school or health center with Volunteer Africa. This reference contains some very helpful indexes that make it convenient to plan a volunteer vacation. You can look up an opportunity by project location, vacation cost, duration or season.

"What We Learned (The Hard Way) About Supervising Volunteers" by Jarene Frances Lee and Julia M. Catagnus: This guide is great for those who are on the management side of a volunteer operation. Getting an organization or project to run smoothly with or without limited paid staff can be daunting. One of the most helpful things this guide does is teach volunteer coordinators how to "coach" rather than manage or supervise. This, the authors say, creates an equal relationship and gets volunteers to take responsibility for their own work. The guide also provides help on volunteer training and evaluation, in addition to helping managers assess their own skills.