ORONO, Maine — Maine’s first lady, Ann LePage, and the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service on Tuesday championed volunteerism in the state during a convention geared toward teaching organizations how to recruit and retain their volunteers.
Nearly 300 volunteers and volunteer managers representing all 16 Maine counties attended the Blaine House Conference on Service and Volunteerism, titled “Service as a Pathway,” at the University of Maine.
“‘Service as a Pathway’ is not just a conference, it’s an invitation to reflect on the many positive benefits service to the community has,” LePage said during a brief opening statement welcoming people to the conference. “Maine’s blessed with thousands of citizens committed to volunteer service.”
Ann LePage, who in September was named 2012 Maine Person of the Year by the Association of the United States Army in recognition of her efforts in support of military families, said that while organizations and volunteers should support troops after they return home, they also should urge them to continue to serve their communities in a different way.
“I ask you to remember that they might want to be invited to serve with you,” LePage said. “Service here at home can be a very important part of transitioning from military service back to community life.”
The first lady said the percentage of Mainers who volunteer is well above the national average, with the state ranking second nationally in the percentage of high schoolers and young adults who volunteer.
She said volunteer work becomes a “habit” that can follow individuals throughout their lifetime, especially if they start at a young age.
Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, delivered the keynote address. She started volunteer work by singing Christmas carols to seniors when she was a Brownie in the Girl Scouts of the USA. She was hooked and continued to volunteer and lead volunteers through high school, college and her career, she said.
Sessions scheduled throughout the day of the conference touched on topics ranging from how to motivate volunteers to how to get children engaged in community service.
Spencer said the goal should be to “bring service alive in communities.”
Spencer said people who volunteer are healthier, happier, live longer and are less lonely. She cited a study from the National Conference on Citizenship that found communities with higher “social cohesion” — such as high rates of volunteering, voting and public meeting attendance — are recovering from the recession faster, have lower unemployment rates and are doing better economically.
“If you volunteer and are connected and engaged in your community, your community is going to be stronger,” she said.
Spencer said it was important to share tips on how organizations can keep their volunteers interested and coming back for more.
“If you do not positively engage volunteers and present them with meaningful work, they will slip away and lose interest,” she said.
Also at the conference, the Maine Commission for Community Service gave its annual Champion of Service Award to Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan.
A member of the department since 1973, Gahagan is an active member of 24 organizations, coalitions and community projects in the area. For more than two decades, he has been active in the Caribou Alcohol and Drug Education Team (CADET). He also serves as a member of the Aroostook Council for Healthy Families, Caribou Communities for Children and Aroostook Cares, among others.