With tough economic challenges and an overwhelming need to keep financial heads above water, American workers find themselves putting in longer hours and commuting farther distances just to keep the bill collectors at bay.

In some local areas, however, commuters are traveling greatest and are less inclined, or not able, to volunteer for community service.

So what is happening to our volunteer forces at home?

For decades, volunteers have been the backbone of relief workers in industries that rely upon their services, but these days, their presence is dwindling.

Some local enterprises are seeing a definite change in the way people give back to their communities — if they are able to donate their time at all.

Giving back

When Fay Mullins’ husband died in 1998, she experienced the normal range of emotions associated with the loss of a loved one. Throughout her stages of grief, however, she felt a calling — an awakening of sorts — telling her to count her blessings and seek the opportunity to give to others.

One year later, she became a volunteer at Rollins Brook Hospital in Lampasas. Today, she still shares her time and skills with all who cross her path.

Mullins was honored Monday with a reception honoring her 15 years of community service. She has no plans to “retire” anytime soon. “I get more out of it than I give, but I do it for my benefit as well as for those I help,” Mullins said.

“I think it’s important for people to help one another, but the younger generation is busy making a living. We don’t have nearly as many people, as a whole, who are interested in volunteering as we used to.

“It just makes you feel good to volunteer; I try to remember: You’re staying active and helping yourself, as well as others, if you volunteer.”

The three R’s

Volunteers are a vital part of the day-to-day operations at Metroplex Health System in Killeen, said Nance Travis, director of volunteer services.

“Based on studies conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we calculate a volunteer is worth $22.84 per hour when you consider their time, skill sets and experience,” Travis said.

“This contributes to an older population that is able to volunteer, because younger people don’t have time and are working so much trying to make a living. We try to give all our volunteers what they need most to honor their service — respect, recognition and reward.”

Travis said volunteers are easier to come by in larger cities like Killeen than in “bedroom” communities such as Lampasas, where commuting to work is more common.

Another contributing factor is the willingness of soldiers and their families to serve in nonactive and active-duty service.

Depleting forces

Brian Brank is a deputy chief with the Killeen Fire Department who oversees operations and the volunteer crew. He’s seen a noticeable decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters throughout his 35 years with the department. The volunteer fire crew has 20 open positions, and currently just 10 names are on the volunteer list.

“Our force has been severely depleted from what it was 15 or 20 years ago,” Brank said.

“Primarily, what we depend on is a few local guys who’ve lived here a long time and some military guys who serve a year or two before being deployed somewhere else. I might also attribute some of the decrease to a particular type of work ethic that’s different now than what it used to be.

“There is a greater focus on doing only the work you’ll be paid for — that’s definitely one of the factors we work with here.”

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