by Michael Blunk Th.D.
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"The world is hugged by
the faithful arms of volunteers."
Meet Will, Peter, and Rusty. These young men are ardent bicycle enthusiasts. Will, who once journeyed over seven hundred by bicycle, has been nearly car-free for ten years. But Will, Peter, and Rusty are more than hobbyists; they are the founders of a community project that provides low and no cost bicycles, bicycle maintenance, and bicycle training to residents of a nearby homeless shelter and to members of the local community. For many, a bicycle means more than fresh air and vigorous exercise; a bicycle represents affordable transportation to a workplace. Or a classroom. And thanks to the efforts of these community-spirited volunteers, homeless men and women are going back to work or gaining new skills through education.
The power of volunteerism cannot be overstated. Since the early days of quilting bees and barn-raisings, volunteers have come to the rescue whenever and wherever a crisis arises. In many small-town communities, fire protection would simply not exist without the local volunteer fire department. When calamity strikes, disaster relief agencies such as the American Red Cross would be powerless to serve without the blood, sweat, and tears of their many volunteers. From the attendant in the nursery to the deacon visiting a shut-in, church outreach is made possible by volunteers. For that matter, the prominent homeless ministry I serve would be hamstrung without the tireless efforts of our many volunteer workers. Were it not for the spirit of volunteerism, most non-profit organizations would be forced into closing the shutters and bolting their front doors.
It is obvious that those in need benefit from those who serve, but volunteerism is truly a win-win situation. Those who volunteer are their own beneficiaries. According to a recent study, many older persons who have left the workforce have found volunteer work to be a meaningful outlet for their many years of practical experience; this study also concluded that involvement in volunteer work assists older men and women in the aging process. Living in a culture that places a lop-sided premium on beauty and youth, the abilities, energy, and talents of older Americans are often overlooked when, in fact, the wisdom and experience born of a long life are of vital importance in solving the ills that plague our society. In truth, volunteerism gives meaning to the lives of older persons while enhancing the lives of those in need.
In the ministry I serve, we offer a program that allows young people join us in tackling the problems of homelessness. These kids roll up their sleeves and go to work serving meals, mopping floors, or engaging in a host of other unglamorous but vitally important tasks. They also have an opportunity to meet face to face with those whom they are serving; for many teenagers, this is a positive, eye-opening experience that takes them beyond a world of ease and privilege—a world beyond their friends, their families and themselves. Considering, too, the imaginative thinking and overwhelming energy common to young people, non-profit organizations are eager in putting their youth workers into high gear.
Logic dictates that if older people and younger people make capable volunteers, the legions of men and women in the middle can certainly find their place in useful service, too! For many, the question is simply, “What can I do?” Good question! Almost any talent, skill, or ability can be put to proper use. Can you tutor young children? Teach a class in personal hygiene? Answer telephones? Bake cookies? Repair drywall? Replace spark plugs? Stuff envelopes? Everyone is capable of involvement and many organizations have volunteer coordinators who provide meaningful “job placement” to those who are willing to serve. The bottom line in volunteerism is this: enthusiasm and willingness are of greater worth than talent and ability. Someone out there needs you.
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