The holidays are often a time when many families have a greater sense of helping those in need. But in Arkansas, we can boast that our citizens donate an enormous amount of their time year round. So much so that our state budget would be greatly impacted if it wasn’t for the generosity of our citizens.

According to the 2012 Economic Impact of Arkansas Volunteers Report, an astounding 595,000 Arkansans donated their time in some capacity. Collectively, last year Arkansans volunteered over 23.5 million hours of time. A large portion of those hours were devoted to state agencies. Volunteers also donated their time to libraries, senior organizations, schools, churches, civic groups, and hospitals. If we were to put a dollar amount on the value of that, the state’s personal income would have to be increased by 10 billion dollars in order to provide the same services. That is an increase of 10.7 percent.

Arkansas is one of the most progressive states when it comes to incorporating volunteers in state government. We were the first state to create an office of volunteerism. In 1981, the legislature passed a bill which not only created the Department of Volunteerism, it also allowed state agencies to consider volunteer hours as work experience. The legislature changed the name to the Division of Community Service and Nonprofit Support. It is a division of the Department of Human Services which strengthens volunteerism by offering training, technical assistance and information to agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

Although the state is grateful for the amount who serve, we are noticing a steady decline in recent years. In 2009, we hit an all time high in the number of volunteers with over 700,000. We can never have too many. Many homeless shelters rely on volunteers to prepare meals and offer mentoring. And support groups rely on volunteers to help provide 24 hour phone support for their hotlines.

Beyond the direct benefit of the services provided, volunteer programs bring their residents into contact with a wide variety of people from all across the community.

Volunteering is not just good for our communities and the state, it is good for you. It can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence and life satisfaction. Studies have even shown those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not.

There is a way to serve in any community in Arkansas. This holiday season we send our deepest appreciation to those who are already helping to make our state a better place and encourage others to get involved.