Community Service Economics

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor is given by what he gave.” — Calvin Coolidge 

Over spring break, I spent my time in Estes Park, Colorado doing flood relief. Being my over analytical self, I found myself with a lot of thoughts about the business and economics behind the work we were doing. Though the impact the group I went with was great, I still noticed a lot of inefficiencies in the way work we was executed that could have made the process go smoother and faster, allowing for an even great impact.Community service is a huge part of today’s society with millions of different organizations, such as Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, to facilitate those who want to donate their time and those who need some extra help. Even though only 25.4 percent of Americans participated in community service for 2013, those did who commit their time made great leaps and bounds towards helping others in times of need. However, there are still many problems in this sector that need to be addressed.

Lack of Equipment or Too Many Workers

Like in any other business, not having enough equipment or improper equipment has a huge impact on workers efficiency. If there are too many workers but not enough equipment, those without the equipment end up working at a slower, less efficient pace, or like on the trip I was on, they are essentially rendered useless and sometimes just got in the way. For example, at one point we had to shovel mud out of a barn that had come in during a mudslide from the flood. There ended up being about eight people in the barn and only about five shovels. The people without the shovels tried using brooms to clean up loose dirt or became wheelbarrow runners (emptying them out whenever they got full), but those with brooms were usually in the way of the others and the wheelbarrow runners found themselves standing around majority of the time. If they had more equipment, they could have helped more, speeding up the process of clearing out the barn. This, however, is a problem that isn’t easily solved. Getting more equipment is usually a matter of funds, which most people who need others to volunteer their time to help them get back on their feet usually don’t have. Even though the government sometimes distributes some supplies, it usually isn’t enough or properly distributed in a way to create optimal efficiency.

Lack of Planning

When it comes to community service, there is always a bit of last-minute planning. When it comes to planning in the long-term, it’s almost impossible to tell who is going to still need help months down the line. Those types of things are usually controlled by outside forces like how much will the government or any NGOs help out, how many workers do they have to help with a project and for how long, and how much equipment will they have to facilitate workers needs. For the community service trip’s I’ve been on, there have been some days where the workload was small enough for big groups such as our own to conquer in one day, while if it had been a smaller group or a bigger workload, then it would have taken more time. It’s hard for organizations that are trying to connect workers and work sites to plan sometimes more than a week in advanced, and even then it is usually a very tentative schedule.

The Fruitless Worker

Unlike paid jobs, community service workers aren’t picked through a hiring process. Most organizations will take what they can get when it comes to workers. This means that some workers will most likely be better than others. In some cases, the people who are doing the work are there for reasons other than to work and help the community. Some people are court issued to do community service; some are there because their parents or some form of social institutions require them to be, while others are there to pad their resumes. Regardless of the reason, dealing with such workers can cause issues. Many of the times they just do the least amount of work they could possibly get away with. This negatively impacts the dynamic of the group they work with and how much work actually gets done.

Lack of Specialized Skills

When it comes to doing community service, no single person needs to have special skills or specially trained in order to help. However, there are some situations in which this doesn’t hold true. For some volunteer jobs, it is required that the volunteer has had past experience in a particular trade. With the trip I had gone on, there was one site that required that the volunteers had experience in dry walling. However, out of 88 of us, only 4 people knew how to drywall. If more workers knew such specialized skills, then more people would have been able to help out, and would also help those in need even more. It is usually these specialized skills that help the most. When it comes to damage costs after a tragedy, most of it is from highly specialized trades, so if more workers had these skills then those who couldn’t afford to hire a person to do the job would be able to get back on their feet even sooner. Without specialized workers, community service can only go so far when it comes to community regrowth.

Even though the business of community service has all of these inefficiencies, it still generally makes a huge impact. Without it, some communities would struggle to find its way back to normalcy, while others might not recover at all. The solutions to this would need collaboration of different parts on many levels, but could be achieved in time in order to create a greater economic impact. I will talk more about potential solutions to these problems in my next blog post.

3 thoughts on “Community Service Economics

  1. This is very interesting, and a good look at the pro and cons of these organizations.

    One problem that I thought this post highlighted however is that NGO’s like charity organizations do have funding problems which may interfere with their mission to provide services humanitarian services. Yet for some reason there’s been a backlash against the government providing humanitarian services.

  2. I have to agree with you Arielle, I too have been in such volunteering situations where the lack of organization, experience and discipline has deterred me from returning to volunteer in a certain event organization. Yes, it is just volunteering and you don’t get paid for it but there needs to be a sense of decorum when it comes to things like this. I also liked how you sacrifice your spring break to go out and volunteer for the flood relief, it is a truly selfless characteristic. Good Job!

  3. I would first like to say that i like your overall blog. It looks very nice. 2 I find that the lack in specialized skills isn’t as much of a problem as it is their willingness to learn. That’s what i get from that experience in general.

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