Montezuma County’s nonprofit organizations are struggling to attract younger volunteers in a region with an aging population.
At this year’s Breakfast of Champions event for United Way of Southwest Colorado, Region 9 director Laura Lewis Marchino cited statistics showing that Colorado residents between the ages of 18 and 35, or millennials, are more likely to volunteer with charitable nonprofits, rather than donate money to them, compared with older generations. Federal data show about half of Colorado’s young people do volunteer work, but data at a regional level is harder to find. Anecdotal evidence from a variety of Montezuma County nonprofits shows millennial volunteers are both scarce and greatly appreciated when they show up.
The fewAccording to a study from the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 50 percent of Coloradans ages 16 to 34 did volunteer work in 2015. Older generations reported more volunteer work, especially in the 45- to 64-year-old age bracket, in which about 65 percent volunteered. That ratio is reflected in Montezuma County as well. Out of 12 local nonprofit leaders who responded to The Journal’s requests for comment, five said they have no regular volunteers under 35. This could result partly from the county’s demographics. According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, people between the ages of 20 and 34 made up just 15 percent of Montezuma County’s population in 2015, while the estimated median age was 43.4.
Molly Greenlee, executive director of Habitat for Humanity for Montezuma County, said she believes it’s also harder for young adults to volunteer than it is for their elders.
“Most adults in that age range work, so if they do volunteer ... they can only commit to short-term projects,” she said. “I understand the challenge of working a 40-hour week and then trying to volunteer.”
Habitat for Humanity, which has operated in Montezuma County since 2008, usually has three to four regular volunteers in the millennial age range, she said, making up about 5 percent of the group’s volunteer hours. Most of the volunteers who raise money through the ReStore on U.S. Highway 491, or help with major construction projects, are retirees over the age of 50. But Greenlee said younger people often show up for smaller home repair projects or onetime fundraising events.
The proudAnnie Seder, 26, moved to Mancos from rural Washington about 10 months ago, but she is already involved in several charity organizations in Montezuma County.
She said she believes the biggest obstacle facing people her age who want to volunteer is a busy schedule.
“It’s just time – time and energy,” she said. “There are a lot of hard things about Montezuma County, and a lot of good things that I want to support ... I just have to find a balance.”
She hasn’t let the time commitment stop her from spending five to six hours a week working for local charities. She has volunteered at several Montezuma School to Farm fundraisers, including the Homespun Supper in September, where she played the violin. She also regularly volunteers at the Good Samaritan food pantry and St. Barnabas Episcopal Church’s programs for LGBT students, and she helps with the Mancos United Methodist Church’s efforts to provide sanctuary to Rosa Sabido.
While some struggle to attract the younger generation, a few Montezuma County organizations thrive on millennial support, like School to Farm. Out of the student nutrition group’s 11 full-time staff members, five are AmeriCorps volunteers under the age of 35. Development consultant Sarah Syverson said about 50 percent of the group’s community volunteers for events are also under 35.
Some of the nonprofits with the largest number of young volunteers are those that deal with children and families. Maggie Tevault, the early childhood and youth programs coordinator for The Piñon Project, said young adults make up an important part of the organization’s volunteer staff. The Project currently has five under-35-year-olds volunteering in its youth mentorship program, and two in the suicide prevention program.
Katrina Lindus, of the Montelores Early Childhood Council, said her organization gets the most millennial volunteers for programs that help other millennials. Young families who are helped by the Council’s services often end up getting involved in those services themselves, which is something Lindus said she tries to encourage.
“You definitely want a person who is non-threatening and approachable,” she said. “Young families all go through similar challenges.”
Seder said she tries to volunteer in places where she feels she can pursue causes she’s passionate about, and work with people she likes. That was why she decided to volunteer with School to Farm.
“I feel connected with the people who work there, and I appreciate what they do, and I also really enjoy their events,” she said.
Lindus, who is 30, does some volunteer work outside the Council as well. Most recently, she helped to run a room at the School Community Youth Collaborative’s annual “Teen Maze” event at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds. Teen Maze is an event designed to teach life skills to middle school students through a “maze” of rooms where they learn about different life skills. Lindus and another volunteer ran the parenting room during the two-day event.
“Eighth grade is a pretty delicate year for students,” she said. “They’re just coming into their own, and they’re more able to make good or bad choices on their own. I want to be able to show them what good and bad looks like at an early age, while they’re still able to be impressionable.”
Mary Jo Standard, the middle school program coordinator for SCYC, said 21 people under 35 volunteered at Teen Maze in 2016.
Several organizations are trying to reach out to more millennials. Greenlee said she hopes events like the recent “Hang Out with Habitat,” held at WildEdge Brewing Collective on Nov. 16, will draw more young people to the cause. Lindus said she tries to encourage young people to serve on the Council’s board of directors, which is in need of growth. School to Farm continues to recruit young volunteers through AmeriCorps. All the organizations that responded to The Journal said they appreciate it when the younger generation shows up to help.