VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Volunteer numbers are down across the nation according to a Gallup poll. A non-profit in Virginia Beach is working hard to get back to its pre-pandemic volunteer numbers, so it can continue its potentially lifesaving work.

“Everybody that connects with our program has a need of some sort,” said Beth Yurkovac-Hornby, Executive Director of EQUI-KIDS in Virginia Beach.

EQUI-KIDS is a non-profit that uses horses to connect with children and adults who are disabled, active duty and retired veterans, and first responders.

“We have therapeutic riding, therapeutic horsemanship, mental health services, inclusion camps, outreach groups, school partnership programs. Overall, we have 10 different programs set aside to help our community members.”

Prior to the pandemic, EQUI-KIDS had nearly 500 volunteers. Yurkovac-Hornby says, post-pandemic, they are down anywhere from 150 to 200 volunteers.

“On average, it takes three volunteers to serve one participant, and when we’re serving 80-100 participants a week, that’s a huge amount of helping hands that we need on site to be able to provide our services. So, we’re hoping to get those numbers back up through the help of our community so that we can continue to serve and expand our services.”

EQUI-KIDS is not the only organization struggling to get volunteers to return. Volunteer Hampton Roads actively recruits volunteers for more than 180 local nonprofits, currently.

Its research shows volunteer numbers are down compared to 2021, but the number of volunteers is the same as in 2019.

As for who volunteers? Volunteer Hampton Roads numbers show, in order from greatest numbers to the least, baby boomers, Gen X, youth (12-19), millennials, and Gen Z. The three first groups are the majority.

Locally, Volunteer Hampton Roads leadership says they are seeing an increase in corporate volunteerism. Companies basically shut down their group volunteer programs for two years and now they are ready to get back out and serve.

During the pandemic, Volunteer Hampton Roads found many organizations lost their pool of recurring volunteers. This is taking a longer time in building back up for many organizations.

That research also shows a larger decrease in volunteers than after the Great Recession.

With a wait list of more than 100 right now, Yurkovac-Hornby says it is imperative to get volunteers back to EQUI-KIDS.

“Our volunteers are an integral, mission-critical part of our program. Without our volunteers, we strictly can’t provide what we do here.”

Yurkovac-Hornby says the organization has not had to cancel any services at this point because of a lack of volunteers.

“What we have had to do is, all of our staff, who are busy behind the scenes, have actually had to step into the role of volunteering and lessons.”

Those staff members are paid workers with other responsibilities they need to focus on to make EQUI-KIDS a success. However, Yurkovac-Hornby says they are happy to help when needed.

Their dedication, combined with the help of volunteers, is a true gift for those using EQUI-KIDS services.

“For a lot of our families, this is the only activity that their child has. They’re not necessarily able to go play soccer or play basketball, but they can climb a 1,000-pound animal and take charge of that horse for an afternoon.”

Everyone involved with EQUI-KIDS wants to see the organization continue to thrive. Not providing services is not an option according to Yurkovac-Hornby.

“If this sport goes away for them, we see a lot of regression in terms of physical mobility and mental stability and self-esteem and self-confidence. All of those things that we work so hard to help them progress to, so, if the service goes away, a lot of those things start to decline.”

You do not need experience to volunteer at EQUI KIDS, and all training is free.

“We have a lot of safety practices in place to help everybody feel comfortable connecting with us and connecting with our participants. We try to ensure that each volunteer is navigated to the niche that is most impactful to them.”

If you would like to volunteer with EQUI KIDS, click here.

If you would like to donate to the non-profit, click here.