April 6 though 12 was National Volunteer Week. You might have missed the headlines announcing this since there were apparently no headlines announcing this. I missed it completely and, given that on any week of the year volunteers surround me in one capacity or another, I should be ashamed that I did.
According to the Points of Light website that sponsors this week of recognition, its purpose is as follows. "National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, 2014, is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. It's about demonstrating to the nation that by working together, we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals."
Volunteers come in all stripes and sizes. Some work within organizations to meet specific needs that encompass their particular interests. At Bird TLC we have a group of men and women who are, quite simply, bonkers over birds. It's not something that can be taught. All my efforts to convince my sister that birds are nice have fallen on deaf ears. She might have been more amenable had those darn seagulls on the Atlantic City Boardwalk not dropped a load on her head quite so often. She is simply beyond reach now. The volunteers at Bird TLC, on the other hand, frequently are in intimate contact with bird poo and smile through the whole experience. You either have to love birds or be a bit nutty to be thrilled by eagle poop on your pants.
Other volunteers work quietly outside of organizational frameworks to simply accomplish a task that others seem to avoid. I have a friend who walks dogs and spends a large part of many days picking up dog poo on the trails she frequents. She doesn't get any recognition for this. She does get frustrated sometimes when she's cleaning up the same path for the 15th time that month. But she keeps on doing it because it needs to be done and it's her community and her trail system. It's what she can do to help.
I have friends who volunteer with ESL programs, the ACLU, the Alaska Zoo and the Loussac Library. Their interests and passions are as varied as the faces of America. But they all have one thing in common. They truly believe that for our country to work and our communities to be healthy places to live, people have to push out beyond the comfortable envelope of their everyday lives.
It's not always easy to find the extra time to volunteer. It's not always easy to combine work and family and volunteering into the number of hours we are allotted each week. But somehow these volunteers do. And when push comes to shove, they bring the family along so they can combine family time with volunteer time thus training the next generation of volunteers.
I periodically take online surveys that include some variation on the question of whether high schools should include a requirement for community service. I always respond with a resounding yes. There is nothing that gets you more vested in your community and its future than getting involved for the sheer sake of being involved and furthering your special passion and your community's wellbeing.
There's an old saying that we don't appreciate things we get for free half as much as we appreciate those things for which we have to work. This is so very true in the world of volunteers. When you give your time, energy and money to get a project done because you passionately believe in the aim of that project, you end up with a stake in its success that cannot really be measured. That's because no human test can gauge what your blood, sweat and tears are worth. And yes, I do mean blood, as one Bird TLC volunteer can attest who let his face get too close to an eagle's beak. (Not to worry. We bought him a goalie mask for future encounters.)
Volunteering knows no social, religious or financial bounds. I have been privileged to meet and work with people from every political leaning, every social strata and every race, color or creed found in our great state. The volunteers I work with are some of the best and brightest and most dedicated people it has been my privilege to know. Happy Volunteer Week - albeit a bit belatedly - to all of you.
By ELISE PATKOTAK