Photo by Brian Giandelone
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Everyone from dog lovers to kids interested in planting flowers to retirees willing to lend a few hours could soon find an opportunity to volunteer to help Gwinnett County's government.
Officials gave a nod Tuesday to a program that will centralize a system and match volunteers, with a goal of 1 million hours annually by 2015.
"You're putting people in a position to see our government in a different light," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said about the program, the manifestation of one of his goals and a suggestion from last year's Engage Gwinnett program. "You have them help clean a stream, all of this adds up to people investing. ... This is a chance for the biggest thing in the county in a decade."
With dwindling county revenues, officials are hoping the increased volunteerism can bridge the gap in services as well as help people connect to their community.
In the past, the majority of the opportunities have come from the county's community services department, which coordinates Meals on Wheels, park cleanups and similar activities. In 2010, the department accounted for nearly all of the 300,000 documented volunteer hours.
Earlier this summer, the county police department officials sought help from volunteers interested in helping at the animal shelter or even working desk duty.
Soon all of the county departments will be on board, it seems.
Commissioners will officially vote in two weeks to hire a part-time volunteer coordinator, and a website will be created to help volunteers find the opportunities.
"I see it as powerful," Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said, pointing out that the Baby Boomer generation is reaching retirement and interested in remaining active. "There's lots of interesting opportunities. Now we need to frame it up and organize it."
Initially, officials plan to use existing newsletters, email lists and the county website to promote the program, which must increase at a rate of 30 percent a year to reach the 1 million goal by 2015.
But while officials expect the volunteer effort to help cut costs, Commissioner John Heard said he wanted to assure employees facing benefit cuts that the volunteers won't take their jobs.
"It's a volunteer program that's going to supplement the employees," he said.