More than 900,000 Twin Cities residents did volunteer work last year.
A new national study confirms it: Twin Cities residents volunteer more of their time to their churches, charities and schools than folks in any other metro area in the nation.
More than 900,000 metro residents, in city and suburb, volunteered an average of 44 hours a year in 2009, according to the annual report by the federal agency overseeing national service programs.
The rest of Minnesota isn't exactly slouching either. More than 1.5 million people volunteered in 2009, the third-highest ranking in the nation.
"The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in the Twin Cities," said Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. "Folks seem to have embraced the idea of making a difference. Nine hundred thousand volunteers is huge."
Minnesota has two things going for it that push it to the top of the rankings each year, Corvington said. It enjoys a vibrant community spirit and strong nonprofit sector that is prepared to funnel volunteer energy.
"It's a perfect mix," Corvington said.
The news doesn't surprise Anna Bethune, who moved to Minnesota from England more than a decade ago. She was so struck by the community involvement of her friends and neighbors that she decided to "integrate" into Minnesota by doing the same.
"One of the things I value most about Minnesota is its tradition of people caring for each other," said Bethune, who has volunteered at her children's schools, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, a charitable foundation and now the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
"I do this because it has enriched my life," said Bethune, who was giving a tour of the museum Tuesday. "And I do it to pay it forward, hoping that someday someone will do the same for me."
For years, Minnesotans have ranked near the top of the charts nationally on volunteerism, voting and other forms of "civic engagement." In fact, the Twin Cities area has topped this same survey for the past four years. The latest study showed that statewide, 1.5 million people volunteered their time, to the tune of 171 million hours last year.
The report showed that 37 percent of Twin Cities residents and those outstate volunteered in 2009. That civic spirit crossed all age groups, from seniors to 20-somethings. Baby boomers were particularly energetic: 40 percent reported volunteering in their communities.
The true figure may be even higher, said Corvington, because the figures in the survey track only "formal" volunteers who work at agencies and nonprofits. It doesn't count neighbors helping neighbors.
Nationally, volunteerism is on the rise, the report said. More than 63 million Americans over the age of 16 volunteered at least once in 2009, an increase of 1.6 million.
The increase was fueled by higher volunteer rates among women, especially those age 45 to 54, as well as Americans who were working.
Minnesotans donate their time for many causes, but the top four are projects involving food for the disadvantaged, fundraising, teaching and "general labor," the report said. Roughly a third do their volunteer work at religious organizations and/or schools.
It's not just an inherent generous spirit in Minnesota fueling this do-good behavior. The quality of life here plays a role, the report said. Home ownership increases volunteer rates, studies have shown, and nearly 74 percent of Twin Cities residents own their own places. That compares to 67 percent nationally.
Volunteering rises with education. Nearly 93 percent of Twin Cities residents hold high school degrees and 38 percent have college degrees. That compares to 85 percent and 28 percent nationally.
Long commutes to work, however, discourage volunteerism. The Twin Cities is on par with the rest of the nation, with an average commute of 24 minutes compared to 25 minutes nationally.
Volunteers such as Bethune exemplify the trend. She's 55, part of the boom in baby-boomer volunteering. She volunteers an average of 15 hours a week. She's made a commitment to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to give at least 20 tours a year for the next three years.
She doubts that will be the end of her service, because she loves her work so much it would be hard to give up.
"People joke you have to wheel people out of these [docent] jobs," she laughed.
In fact, it's the fun of volunteering that helps keep folks such as Bethune coming back. She is an accountant by profession, and volunteering for arts groups "is developing my inner child," she jokes.
"And my inner child is having a ball," she added.
To see the full report, Volunteering in America, go to www. volunteeringinamerica.gov.
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511