Saturday, April 23, 2005

Any Volunteers?

Reading Jeninco's blog, Boulder Moment, brought back many thoughts about the North American practice of volunteering.

Most charitible organizations and churches could not exist without the efforts of volunteers, and most organizations are set up to accept volunteer help. In fact some organizations that rely heavily on volunteers have a paid staff person whose primary job is to manage the volunteers. The international center at our local univeristy has such a person who organizes and schedules all kinds of services and events for foreign students and their families: ESL partners, cooking and shopping demos, play groups, tours of local points of interest, even legal and technical advice about buying a used car, or renewing a visa. The people who actually carry out the work are mostly volunteers.

My sister-in-law just started volunteering with the political party she supports; she's unhappy with the present political situation, and working for the opposition is her way of doing something about it. My husband's secretary, after she retired, volunteered to shelve books at her local library. She loves to read, and she's a very efficient and organized person, so the job appealed to her for a couple of reasons.

My husband and I enjoyed a recent International Festival at our local elementary school. I suppose it was a fund-raiser of sorts, but more importantly, it brought the whole community together. It was inspiring to see children and parents from many different countries wearing their native costumes, explaining their cultural customs, and sharing their ethnic foods. I'm not sure what I ate at the international buffet --- it was like a huge potluck --- but all of it was delicious. While we ate, we watched the children perform. The kids were excited, the teachers were high, the parents and grandparents were proud and the music was good. Everyone had worked hard and contributed time, energy and resources. Could any highly-funded program create so much understanding and cooperation?

When our kids were little we lived in Europe for a year. It was my intention to volunteer at the school the kids attended or at a local library or hospital in order to learn the language. But I soon discovered this just wasn't done. When, somewhat later, we entertained a couple from then newly independent Czech Republic, I took the wife on a tour of volunteer agencies in our area. The idea of philanthropy, not to mention volunteer work, did not exist in the former communist country. When the government stopped supplying minimal social services, no one knew how to step in and take up the slack.

A generation ago, young, stay-at-home wives and mothers made up most of the volunteer army. Now with so many women working full-time, we see still-vigorous retirees filling the volunteer slots. Bright, home-schooled teenagers are fully capable volunteers. Some companies give their workers time-off for volunteer work.

We must nurture and cherish our volunteer networks. Any volunteers?


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