Volunteerism provides benefits to volunteers, the people and organizations they serve and the community as a whole. By connecting strategic financial investments and well-managed nonprofit organizations with dedicated volunteers, we make measurable progress in all areas of our community’s Agenda for Change.

United Way understands the valuable work volunteers provide in our community. Since we launched the Volunteer Mobilization Plan in February 2010, we have increased the total number of annual volunteer hours served in Dane County from 16.8 million to 17.6 million. This is truly a remarkable accomplishment – and evidence of the dedication of the volunteers in Dane County!

Jeremy Jacobson is one volunteer who understand what a transformational effect giving back can have the community. At 15, Jeremy is, in many ways, a typical teen who likes to hang out with friends, go shopping, text and see movies. But what makes Jeremy special is his drive and commitment to volunteerism.

“Volunteering has really opened my view on things. I see things differently now,” says Jeremy.

At a young age he began volunteering in the Cambridge Library and organizing bingo for some local seniors. But he credits his true volunteer spirit to his parents who really guided and encouraged him to give back.  So, when his father suggested he help the Cambridge food pantry, a United Way Partner, Jeremy was excited and eager to take on this new opportunity. Jeremy found out they needed more than a little help, rather they needed someone to start a produce garden.  Almost single-handedly, he plowed, planted and harvested close to three thousand pounds of food in one summer.

“Helping people is the main thing that crosses my mind. Every time I pull a weed, it reminds me of what who I am helping,” says Jeremy.

One of his supervisors, Wanda Pleshek, says, “Jeremy is the true meaning of a volunteer. He gives of himself at the young age of 15, showing more responsibility than most folks twice his age.”

Jeremy was too young to drive to the garden every day, so he rode his bike.  He weeded, checked for critter damage, maintained machinery, and organized other volunteers to help out.  His dad Rick Jacobson says Jeremy has always been a self starter.  “I never had to tell him to go take care of his responsibilities, he just does it on his own,” he said.  “I hope other kids see what he has done and are inspired to do some volunteering of their own.”

Jeremy’s outstanding volunteer leadership and hands-on work in our community was recognized at the 2011 Community Volunteer Awards where he received the Goodman Gemstone Youth Award. The Goodman Gemstone Youth Award honors the legacy of Bob and Irwin Goodman, who epitomized the philanthropic spirit of Dane County.

United Way helps organize food pantries because providing surplus food is a key strategy to reducing homelessness.  Jeremy’s work helps families avoid having to make a choice between paying for rent and paying for food. Jeremy is part of the 41 percent of Dane County residents who volunteer.  Each volunteer invests almost 90 hours a year creating positive change in our community.  If you’d like to find the right volunteer opportunity for you, just visit www.volunteeryourtime.org.