2017-10-11 / Editorial

Where has the volunteer spirit gone?

Over the past month, The Courier-Times has featured stories about each of the volunteer fire departments in Person County, along with another story about the Roxboro-Person Rescue Squad.

The leaders of these volunteer organizations all had different stories to tell, but there were threads throughout those stories that wove each department together.

In most every case, the departments struggle with the dwindling number of volunteers who are willing to give of their time and talents to support the mission of these agencies.

It’s a common theme among volunteer organizations. Civic clubs struggle to maintain their membership numbers.

A visit with American Legion leaders Roger Crump and Charlie Lunsford on Monday raised the same refrain. That organization has nearly 200 members on its rolls, though only about 30 are active with the organization.

So why is it, I wonder, that groups with altruistic intentions struggle to attract members?

The answer is probably different with every organization.

Volunteering with the local fire department requires a ton of training. That’s time spent away from family practicing and learning about a skill most of us don’t have.

For groups like the American Legion, I suspect, as Roger told me, some veterans don’t necessarily want to revisit their experience, especially if it’s a recent military experience.

Civic clubs actually cost money to join. Potential new members must pay for the right to volunteer.

There’s also the more obvious answer which says young people are too self-absorbed in their own lives to bother giving of their time.

Having lived through a period as a single adult, then a married man and, finally, a father of young children who have now grown up, I can speak with experience when I say that each of those stages in life gives us plenty of excuses for not volunteering.

But I suspect that if each of us were to take a true inventory of how we spend our time, we would find that we have time to give of ourselves that we are currently using on activities that serve no real long-lasting purpose.

Oh, sure, there may be some short-term gratification.

Spending a Saturday afternoon watching a football game may be a just reward for a hard week at work.

Taking in the kids’ play at school on a Tuesday night is part and parcel of being a good parent.

But for everything we do, chances are there is a way we could make those experiences richer by volunteering.

If you’ve ever had the chance to usher at a college football game you know the fun and reward that comes from watching people and, oh, yes, catching the game live and inperson.

If you’ve been to the school play, you may have observed the make-shift set that could have been made better if you had donated your time and carpentry skills.

For those who argue they don’t have time to volunteer, here’s one final question to consider. What kind of legacy are you leaving?

What will your children, your neighbors, your co-workers say about you when you’re gone? “Yeah, that Bill. He loved watching Shark Tank.”

Or would you rather they think more about your giving heart and your compassion for others who don’t enjoy the benefits of life as good as you have it?

Contrary to popular belief, this world doesn’t owe us anything.

We won’t get materially rich because we give away our time and our talents.

But from an emotional, spiritual way people who volunteer will be rich beyond compare if they simply share themselves with others.

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