The election is over, and Legislature is gearing up to deal with the hard reality of the latest budget forecast. While the economy appears to be improving, we continue to rely upon volunteers to help maintain and improve our quality of life.

Throughout the economic downturn, volunteers have provided essential services in their communities. Someone you know — whether it's you, your friend or your neighbor — is volunteering to help support our community by coaching job seekers, helping in classrooms, by driving seniors and veterans to health care facilities, and more.

Yet despite the vital support volunteerism provides, the most recent Volunteering and Civic Life in America report shows that the number of volunteer hours in Minnesota has shrunk to 172 million in 2011, from a peak of 198 million in 2004. And it isn't for a lack of trying. Many folks want to volunteer, but unfortunately, organizations that rely on volunteers have faced ever-increasing challenges, and Minnesota has lost key volunteerism infrastructure and support due to recent budget cuts.

By strengthening the statewide volunteerism infrastructure, and bringing us back to the hours of volunteerism seen in 2004, we could add $567 million in value to our communities. We need to increase resources to nonprofits to engage volunteers, and to agencies that connect volunteers to opportunities, to achieve these goals.

JANENE RIEDEMAN, board president, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration