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Volunteers an essential part of Nebraska Community Action Partnerships

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Deborah Van Fleet

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(Nebraska News Connection) April is National Volunteer Month, and Nebraskans rank high nationwide for their willingness to volunteer.

In the most recent Census Bureau/AmeriCorps report, Nebraska ranked seventh in the nation for formal volunteering and second for informal volunteering.

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However, many nonprofits still need more help.

Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership in Loup City serves 21 counties with programs in housing, early childhood, family outreach and community health. It serves 72 counties with its veterans programs.

Executive Director Cheryl Holcomb said it would struggle to offer these services without volunteers.

"Throughout our agency, it is vital - vital that we have volunteers that provide services as well," she said. "We always have a need for more."

Holcomb explained that for their Head Start programs, volunteers do more than help the teachers and children. Their hours also contribute to the 25 percent match the program's grant funding requires. Volunteer time is valued at nearly $32 an hour, and most grants count volunteer hours as an "in-kind" match. Nationally, women volunteer at a slightly higher rate than men, and Gen-Xers have the highest percentage by age group.

Like other nonprofits providing food assistance, Holcomb said they've seen an increase in need without an accompanying increase in volunteers. She added that the funding for its Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which serves people 60 and older, isn't sufficient to support the program.

"So, relying on volunteers to help offset that program is crucial," she said. "They rely on volunteers to come in and package the food; they rely on volunteers to make deliveries in the specific community."

Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership also relies on volunteers at its two food pantries, a quarterly mobile food pantry and four food warehouses.

There are nine Community Action agencies across the state. Although their programs vary, Holcomb said, all rely on volunteers.