A volunteer at Housing Forward. File photo

Drew Dingman is hoping that one New Year’s resolution Oak Park residents have been making is to step up as a volunteer for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO).

“Our recruiting has required more time and effort in recent years,” said the Oak Park AYSO regional commissioner, “particularly with COVID increasing hesitancy to participate in larger group activities.”

“Volunteering volume was already trending downward prior to COVID,” he added as a way of noting that the virus is not the only cause.

Mike Hill, Dingman’s counterpart in Forest Park, reported the same challenge. “We have had a struggle getting parents to participate as head coaches at the 5- to 7-year-old level of our soccer program. It’s been especially hard to find young adults who want to help with our 3- to 5-year-old soccer sessions.”

The decline seems to be following a national trend. “Fewer Americans,” the website Do Good reported, “are engaging in their community by volunteering and giving than in any time in the last two decades.”

On Dec. 6, Housing Forward held a focus group involving congregational team leaders to address the issue of a fall-off in the number of volunteers following the non- profit’s shift from an Emergency Shelter model (in which the service would change locations every night) to an Outreach, Diversion, and Interim Housing model at the Write Inn — a single 24/7 site location.

For example, since meals are no longer served using volunteers but in “to go” style containers to be picked up in the Write Inn lobby, volunteers need to find other ways to engage with clients on a face-to-face basis.

The Write Inn site will need two people at a time to cover eight 3-hour shifts each day to sort of “mind the store,” and there is talk of individual churches serving as pop-up warming centers during the daylight hours.

Coming out of the meeting was a report indicating that COVID has forced both the nonprofit and volunteers themselves to reimagine what donating their time and energy will look like.

Beyond Hunger, which is based in Oak Park, recently issued a call for volunteers to do a variety of tasks:

  • Assisting clients to shop for food.
  • Data entry
  • Unloading food deliveries
  • Stocking shelves
  • Re-packing produce
  • Transporting donated food from local donors.

Not every nonprofit has been struggling. Jackie Iovinelli, director of the Park District of Forest Park, said around 75 volunteers teamed up with her staff last summer to host the 53rd Annual No Glove National Tournament.

Dingman speculated as to why there has been a drop-off in volunteering.

“One of the causes we identified is that children, and parents, continue to be more active, in more ways, with more organizations. As a result, their ability to dedicate recurring time to a single organization has been negatively impacted.”