This past week, April 18-24, was National Volunteer Week here in the United States. It got me to thinking about the spirit and attitude of the American people. From the time I was a kid I have been impressed with the spirit of volunteerism in our country.
It has been my good fortune to have lived all over this great land of ours, and to have been exposed to a multiplicity of cultures, and people groups. We are truly a diverse people, but we share the same desire to step up and help our neighbor.
In the early days of our nation it was critical for new communities to volunteer their help if that community had any chance of surviving, particularly as people moved west. There were barn raisings from Pennsylvania to the Pacific. There is not so much of a need for this today, but the Amish still do this for each other.
In 1997, there was a summit held on Volunteerism which was headed by General Colin Powell (Retired). During one of his numerous interviews, he made this observation about America’s volunteer attitude. “A lot of people do volunteer their time. That's one of the great things about this nation. We are very philanthropic, caring, compassionate people.” At another time he was heard to make this statement, “The United States is not stingy. We are the greatest contributor to international relief efforts in the world.”
Case in point: Haiti. So much relief has flowed into this tiny island nation since the devastating 7.0 earthquake on January 12th of this year that the entire economic structure of the country has been altered. The vast majority of support has come in through private volunteer agencies. The Haitian government is complaining because the people do not need to work since there is plenty of food, clothing, shelter and other necessities available without having to go to work! Care to guess where most of this is coming from?
Just before Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, I had been informed that my new assignment in the naval reserve was to be the Command Chaplain for the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing – headquartered in New Orleans! Even though I was not officially to report until October 1st, I felt it was my responsibility to join my new command during this trying period. I spent a couple of weeks in that besieged city, witnessing volunteers extending themselves above and beyond the call of duty. One young lady, who was working with the Red Cross helping people find shelter, had a perpetual smile on her face. She sat at her make-shift desk kindly seeing to the needs of each person with a line out the door that wrapped around the block. I commented to her that I appreciated her attitude. Then I asked her how she had fared through the hurricane. She mentioned that while she was at this emergency shelter helping others, some unscrupulous people broke into her apartment and walked off with her belongings. Yet, there she sat, doing her volunteer job helping others. That was just one of several such stories I could recount for you.
Closer to home, I have to say I am blessed beyond imagining by the folks who are part of our church. A church, by its very nature, is almost entirely voluntary. Because they love the Lord and want to do something to bless others, I have a front row seat watching these folks step up to the plate without complaint, doing such tasks as working with 4th-6th graders, or teaching Children’s Church, or working on worship songs for Sunday services. Others take care of the buildings and grounds, and still others deliver welcome baskets to our visitors. Some of the more mundane needs that go unnoticed are folding our Sunday programs, restocking the pews with pencils, prayer cards, Bibles and other items. We have a volunteer janitor who keeps everything tidy throughout the week. And I couldn’t forget to mention my bell ringers! We do it the old fashioned way – we pull the rope that rings the bell thirty-five feet up in the bell tower for each worship service.
Ripon, California is where I live. In my town there are numerous volunteer organizations that make this a terrific place to live. The Soroptimists, Rotary, Ripon Arts League, the Chamber of Commerce, and so forth, all add immeasurably to the health and spirit of our town, just like in every other town across America.
We are an enriched nation because of the volunteers who are your friends and neighbors.