Kirkland’s population boom is evident in its multiple growing neighborhoods but can also be seen as the city reports a steady rise in community service, with 2017 having the most individual volunteers on record.
The city reported that 5,987 volunteers dedicated 34,413 hours to various city programs and community service projects. From running the front desk at City Hall to maintaining an emergency HAM radio network, local volunteers see their work as essential to bettering the community.
“In the City of Kirkland, we have wonderfully amazing, smart, enthusiastic and generous group of people who give their time and are just so capable. It’s remarkable to see how they jump in,” said Mary De Friel, Kirkland Emergency Communications Team president.
Friel and her team maintain a HAM radio network that allows local officials and authorities to communicate during an emergency that disables conventional communication networks.
“We have a really broad cross section of men and women who have other things they could be doing and they choose to spend quite a bit of time volunteering for our team,” Friel said. “We’re the envy of a lot of communities because we’re such an active group.”
The city benefits from several volunteer services that are maintained by small, dedicated teams, but most city volunteers are simply locals looking to make a difference with their free time.
“One of the most satisfying things that I can do is actually see the effects of having helped people,” said Barbara Alban, a 20-year Kirkland resident who currently volunteers for the Domestic Abuse Response Team. “I see that a lot in the relationships I’ve developed…they make you feel better about yourself and about the world.”
Nearly one-third of the reported volunteer hours were through the Green Kirkland Partnership. Green Kirkland’s volunteers dedicated 11,113 hours to restoring 96 acres of local natural parkland and introducing 6,340 new native plants, including trees shrubs and ground cover.
Green Kirkland was by far the most popular volunteer program in 2017. Youth basketball coaching, emergency preparedness and police youth explorers had the closest volunteer hours with 3,920, 3,506 and 3,271 hours, respectively.
Green Kirkland has three staff members and 32 volunteer leaders who helped host about 220 volunteer events in 2017. Each event is dedicated to restoring local parks and removing invasive plants as the city only has the resources to maintain the parks.
“Volunteers in general I think, are being more specific with what they want (to do),” said Patrick Tefft, Kirkland’s volunteer services coordinator. “A generation ago, the typical volunteer would show up and say, ‘Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.’ Nowadays I think volunteers are looking for a little bit more self-actualization.”
Based solely on anecdotal evidence gathered from his talks with other city employees, Tefft estimates that Kirkland has higher volunteer numbers per capita than most cities in the region.
“The nice thing about the City of Kirkland is we have quite a wide variety of volunteer opportunities,” Tefft said. “We have some flexible things, like adopting pedestrian flag crosswalk…or helping to mark storm drains, things like that.”
According to Tefft, flexibility is important because most people work during the week and don’t have the time to volunteer in most programs. While the weekday volunteer opportunities are filled by part-time workers or retirees, the city works to offer events during the weekends.
“I happen to think that volunteers make the world go round and anyone who gives up their time generously is somebody I want to know,” Friel said.
Kirkland began recording volunteer statistics with the current method in 2008. According to Tefft, the city has access to records that predate this change, but they aren’t as accurate.
Volunteer numbers and hours see a rough average increase of 10 percent from year to year, with 2017’s numbers being 13 percent higher than 2016.
Overall, the total number of volunteers has nearly doubled since 2010, which reported 2,591 volunteers.
The total volunteer hours have also increased from 2010, which reported 24,650 hours, but 2017 was not the best year in volunteer hours. City staff reported 35,452 hours in 2014 before a sharp drop to 26,973 hours in 2015 after the city ended its EMT volunteer program.
Tefft said he expects the current trends to continue as the city continues to offer numerous volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
Currently, the city has experienced the first of its two peak volunteer seasons. According to Tefft, locals tend to volunteer the most during the first months of the year and in the fall, just before schools begin a new year.
“I think people are thinking and reflecting on life and their blessings,” Tefft said. “Then in the fall, people are moving out of their summer state of mind and looking ahead.”
Tefft added that he would never want to imagine Kirkland without the volunteers who support the community.
“I think there’s a strong sense of civic pride within Kirkland,” Tefft said. “A community is its relationships…(volunteering) is creating a network of relationships that build on each other, support each other and helps people understand each other.”