Portland lends a helping hand

This year, Portland is not only ranked the top bicycle-friendly city in the U.S., but is also top in volunteering.

This year, Portland is not only ranked the top bicycle-friendly city in the U.S., but is also top in volunteering. The Corporation for National and Community Service ranks Portland number two in volunteers per capita, only behind Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. A total of 36.7 percent of Portland and surrounding-area residents are volunteers and 74.8 percent of those continue to volunteer the following year.

The rankings are based on a three-year moving average. The CNCS ranks on volunteers per capita, hours per resident, return rates and dollar amount of services contributed.

It also breaks down the volunteers into target demographics. There are rates for older adults, baby boomers, young adults, college students and teenage volunteers. Portland is among the top ranked in each of these groups.

Organizations such as Sisters of the Road Café, Union Gospel Mission and Salvation Army are a few of the foundations that have made this feat possible. Promoting non-violence, feeding the hungry and providing sanctuary for the needy are just a few of the objectives of these non-profits.

Among many non-profit organizations, Hands On Greater Portland continues to contribute a huge amount to the community. Hands On organizes and participates in over 1,000 projects per year in Portland, with a record-breaking 20,000 connections, or volunteers, this fiscal year alone. Volunteer connections are measured in terms of volunteers per volunteer job—one volunteer filling one volunteer job.

Hands On has projects everyday, but the majority of their project influx is on Saturdays.

“I think that [Portland’s ranking] is one of the reasons why I am so proud to live here,” said Andy Nelson, executive director of Hands On Greater Portland. Nelson oversees the organization of Hands On, but still answers to a 16-member Board of Directors.

Nelson moved to Portland 15 years ago with the hopes of finding a community of people that were as passionate about cooperation and community service as he was—he was looking for hope.

Nelson’s most memorable experience volunteering is with his 9-year-old son.

“It’s given us a way to connect unlike any other. By doing good together, I am able to teach him values that I want for him,” Nelson said. “It’s the same way with friends. When we volunteer together, we connect on a deeper level. The very act of volunteering deepens our relationships with each other and with our community.”

Overall, Nelson has found what he was originally looking for in moving to Portland.

“I have been [at Hands On] for over seven years now, and this continues to be my dream job,” he said.

Hands On partners with more than 300 local non-profit agencies to develop volunteer projects throughout Portland and surrounding areas.

“Volunteer projects are not just well run, but also leave people feeling moved,” Nelson said. “We want people to make volunteering a way of life, so we develop memorable projects that impact a community need, but also the volunteers fill that need.”

People are encouraged to volunteer throughout Portland to help out their fellow Portlanders and support their community.

“This is not your mom and dad’s volunteering. Here are cool opportunities designed with you in mind, as well as the needs of the community. Volunteering can be fun and meaningful, and we work hard to make it that way,” Nelson said.

If you’re unsure of what you can do to help out, Nelson has the answer.

“Start by signing up for a Hands On Greater Portland project. It’s easy and it’s fun,” Nelson said. “Plus, you’ll be making a difference.”

Whether you volunteer by yourself or with a friend or group of people, you can make a huge difference.

“Portland is top in the nation for millennial volunteering. Young people volunteer here at a rate higher than in any other city in America. We should be proud of that legacy, and I hope this distinction motivates other young people to step up and help out,” Nelson said. “Volunteering is booming in the nation, and in the Portland area, as a result of the economic downturn. Needs are growing. Volunteering can and does make the difference. What are you waiting for?”