Literacy of Volunteers of the Lowcountry top volunteer shows value of those who help

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 18, 2013 

Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry volunteer of the year Vivian Burt

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  • Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com.

Thanks to volunteer Joe Distelheim for sharing the story of Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry's volunteer of the year, Vivian Burt.

Volunteers By Joe Distelheim

Beaufort County volunteers teach English and reading. They teach kids and adults and seniors. They help older folks get to their doctors and help people who can't afford doctors get medical care anyway.

They help in thrift stores and food pantries, in clubs that keep children safe and old people secure. They give their time to the arts and to military families, through service clubs and churches and the United Way.

Our little piece of the world is the most volunteer-intensive place most of us have ever experienced.

Vivian Burt, a transplant from New Jersey, is a good example. Her story is typical: Some 10 years ago, she was exposed to a need and to an organized effort to meet that need, got involved gradually, then found ways to make a larger contribution. But, her accomplishments have been unusually praiseworthy -- she recently was named Volunteer of the Year by the Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry.

"I was invited to a breakfast (an annual Literacy Volunteers fundraiser)," she recalls. "I gave some money, showed some interest, and was invited to participate in a minor way with mailings -- I'm the person who named this group 'Lickers and Stickers.' "

Her local volunteering grew from that initial exposure to Literacy Volunteers.

"I had a good feeling about it," she says. "My parents came to this country as immigrants."

Her parents were from Norway and didn't speak English -- "They had to learn the hard way." So did other relatives, so "I knew how important it was," she said.

She got involved in fundraising. There was a "Reading Rocks" event that auctioned off rocking chairs painted by local artists. Then came "Cooks and Books," the organization's successful annual event that draws authors, chefs and large crowds.

Soon, she was part of the core group that revived the auxiliary eventually known as "Friends of Literacy." It plays a large role in financially supporting Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry.

As Burt puts it, "I have managed to stick around." In fact, until recently, she had been chair or co-chair of the group, now about 70 strong, since 2008, in addition to playing active roles in Cooks and Books and other support functions.

She and her husband, Fred, live in Sea Pines. They have two children and five grandchildren. She's an avid tennis player. Why do so many such people, with plenty to do, give their time so freely around here?

Stan Stolarcyk, director of volunteers for Volunteers in Medicine on Hilton Head Island, has one answer:

"In my experience -- what I hear over and over from many of our volunteers -- is that they have been very fortunate in their lives, and because they are able to help, they choose to volunteer their time in organizations that provide programs and services that are important to their value systems. ... And that they want to help people in general. ... And that they hate to see people suffer."

United Way of the Lowcountry has volunteers who help during its annual campaigns, more than 200 each in the Help Line and early learning programs it runs, and untold hundreds among the 33 nonprofits it helps.

Those volunteers "don't come here to just sit on the beach. They get involved. They take that idea from where they came from, and the whole county is the better for it," said Ryan Copeland, United Way of the Lowcountry director of marketing and communications.

No one seems to have a good way to quantify the volunteer effort in the area, but Charlie Clark, spokeswoman for Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, notes that the chamber has more than 70 members who fall into the nonprofit category. She agrees that "it's a very generous community in terms of the supportive time, talent and treasures put forth by our residents both retired and otherwise."

Literacy Volunteers provides some numbers that demonstrate how valuable volunteer time and effort can be.

Literacy Volunteers has more than 200 volunteers, including tutors and support people such as Volunteer of the Year Vivian Burt. Together, they contribute more than 20,000 hours annually -- teaching time, preparation, training, travel.

According to Independent Sector, a national network for nonprofits, foundations and corporate giving programs, the value of a volunteer's time is just more than $22 an hour.

That's roughly $440,000 in annual value for just Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry.

Those who work with volunteers point out the wide range of opportunities for people of varying skills and interest.

"At VIM," said Stolarcyk, "most of our volunteers enjoy the 'hands-on action' -- lots of patient interaction -- but we also have many volunteers who don't want to work with patients at all, but like doing behind the scenes work that is enjoyable to them."

Burt is being honored for exactly that kind of behind-the-scenes contribution. She makes the same point, a lesson for those who want to contribute, but aren't sure how. She and Friends of Literacy find people who want to get involved in the cause, but can't make the regular time commitment to be tutors.

That's fine, she says: "You raise awareness, raise money. It's a symbiotic relationship."

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