Last week I spoke with elementary school students about homelessness. Every class I visit is always attentive for their “special guest” and our conversations can be an insightful treat. One second grade boy stopped me in my tracks when he asked “What would happen if there were no volunteers?” I find myself returning to his question every day.
When I first answered him, I spoke about the concrete tasks which occur each day. We wouldn’t have any meals to serve to the men at the shelter. We wouldn’t have career training and computer programs, special activities, or dental visits. Then I started to consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by those who care and the subsequent lack of funding for our programs. By the end of the session we all agreed many people would be a lot worse off in their lives if people didn’t volunteer.
The question comes to me at a troublesome time in my life. Lately I spend large portions of my days fantasizing about my life without volunteering. I dream about what I would do if I selfishly didn’t lead my cub scout pack, volunteer at church, run events at my son’s school, and chair a city commission. I could work on my career aspirations and take time for my artwork while still having plenty of time for my family. My life would be all about me. But often the emails fill my box causing me to spend hours organizing and directing successful programs while my personal “to do” list lays unviewed.
At a pivotal point in my life, the boy has forced me to imagine every single part of our community without volunteers. I picture our church with only four paid staff and no one helping at worship services or doing youth service projects. I imagine my son’s teachers all alone in school without parents copying, making boards, and tutoring kids. How empty the halls would be without decorations and how much less the kids would learn. There would be no scouting. There would be no city commissions or programs at the senior center. The food drives and recreation programs would disappear. Our community landscape would be a dried up and barren filled with loneliness and suffering. No one would be living up to their full potential. This process has caused me to realize we all take volunteers for granted because it is impossible to fully picture a world without them.
Starting on October 25, 2009 ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and several cable channels will air more than 90 shows with volunteerism written into the scripts. USA Today lists the programs participating in this i Participate campaign by the Entertainment Industry Foundation. Obviously all inspired by President and Mrs. Obama’s continuing emphasis on volunteering to serve, the initiative gives me some personal hope. If more people help, my burden will become more manageable. For the people who dodge their responsibilities or do the absolute minimum once per year, I hope they will be inspired to do more.
When we think about our lives and all the groups, activities, and programs which are important, we need to ask ourselves “What would happen if there were no volunteers?” If the program is meaningful to you, then you must bring your community to life.