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S.L. County and volunteers reap benefits

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Ann Mayne, with Salt Lake County Aging Services, is one of the county's 25,000 volunteers.

Ann Mayne, with Salt Lake County Aging Services, is one of the county’s 25,000 volunteers.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Volunteering saved Ann Mayne's life.

Fifteen years ago, the widow moved here from Texas and didn't know a soul. Her husband had just died, and she had no circle of friends to support her.

Then she walked into the Murray library and saw a flier asking for volunteers. A few days later, she called. She started volunteering in the library, and she's continued as a volunteer in other county programs over the years.

The 76-year-old is one of Salt Lake County's 25,000 volunteers, who put in more than 1 million service hours a year. Utah leads the nation in volunteering, according to a new study by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

"I find that volunteer work gives me a sense of being needed, of being able to use my talents, to keep my brain active," Mayne said. "A lot of people say they are lonely, but when you get out and can find a volunteer opportunity, you're meeting people."

Mayne works for Aging Services, logging all the hours other volunteers put in every month. She also serves at various community events, doing everything from smiling at the door and "making people feel welcome" to helping behind the scenes.

"There is something just almost everyone can do," Mayne said. "A lot of volunteering doesn't take the real brain work, but it takes just being there and being friendly and needed and wanted."

The county operates 100 different volunteer programs, with people delivering Meals on Wheels, coaching youth soccer games or giving free concerts.

In 2006, volunteers logged 868,356 service hours — which amounts to about $16 million worth of work.

"The county could not survive without the volunteers," said Virginia Lee, manager of volunteer-programs services.

The county honored several volunteers Tuesday. One group, the Happy Go Luckies harmonica band, received the 2007 Inspire by Example volunteer award.

The band is made up of about 20 people who perform at various senior centers and care facilities across the county. The group has been volunteering in the county for about 40 years, Lee said. "Wherever they are invited, they will go."

Shirley Mears, 84, drives from Bountiful every Wednesday to practice with the Happy Go Luckies. She didn't even know how to play the harmonica when she joined the band about 10 years ago.

"It's a lot of fun, and it's good for your health and good for your lungs," Mears said.

Mears said the thing she enjoys most about volunteering is the smiles on the faces of people singing along to the harmonica band. Her friend and fellow band-mates agreed.

"It's really fun to go to those centers," said Laura Alley, 84, who has been in the band with her husband for 18 years. "The people really appreciate it, and they sing along with us."

E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com