Gore, Powell hold meeting in Minnesota on volunteerism

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) — Six-year-old David Bielke loves playing with his volunteer classroom assistant. He gets almost nonstop attention from 16-year-old Connie Denstedt while he works on his counting skills with a game involving plastic bugs and dinosaurs.
“Connie, I did all of that,” he says, after stacking some colored blocks in groups of 10. “I’m going to do the dinosaurs next.”
Denstedt visits the classroom at Valley View Elementary in Bloomington twice a week. The students she works with don’t qualify for formal programs but need extra attention. They wouldn’t get it without volunteers like Denstedt, who works with groups of three for an hour.
More people have been volunteering in the Bloomington Public Schools, said Connie Dove-Clover, who is in charge of coordinating volunteers for the district. She only expects that to increase after Thursday’s second national meeting on volunteerism with retired Gen. Colin Powell and Vice President Al Gore in St. Paul.
Some volunteer organizations would say that the movement born from last year’s meeting, called America’s Promise, actually leaves fewer volunteers to do direct service, Dove-Clover said. They say the administrative cost of various programs eats up valuable dollars that would otherwise go straight to volunteer programs.
Minneapolis volunteers from United Way who attended last year’s summit disagree. They returned home to try to further the summit’s goals of promoting volunteers for youth. Both the Minnesota Alliance with Youth and Minneapolis Promise for Youth were established, programs that offer mini-summits for youth.
“We push to have corporations expand what they’re doing,” said Cynthia Peterson, a project specialist for United Way who works with Minneapolis Promise for Youth. “We’re building on what already exists as opposed to creating new things.”
Minnesotans volunteer more than the average American; according to the Independent Sector Survey, 60 percent of Minnesotans volunteer, whereas 49 percent of Americans do.
Since last year’s meeting, the number of Minnesotans who volunteer through St. Paul’s The Volunteer Center remained about the same, according to executive director Jackie Sinykin. The center connects volunteers with places that need them. She does not expect much of a boost from Thursday’s summit either.
“I think for those who attend, it will strengthen their resolve to make a difference with young people,” she said. “But I don’t expect to see an increase in the number of volunteers.”
That could be because people volunteer for many different reasons, from socializing to just feeling good about themselves, Sinykin said.
Diana Buechler, for example, tutors 17-year-old Steve Stoick in geometry as a way to find out if she wants a career change. And Denstedt volunteers simply because she loves kids, and enjoys discovering their different learning patterns.
Marilyn Erickson, executive director of Mankato’s The Volunteer Center, spent the past year volunteering with AmeriCorps. She says she can’t think of anything more rewarding than volunteering.
“I just enjoy the time with other people and know that when I walk away there has been something accomplished,” said “Every bit of it really was rewarding.”