Editor's Notebook

Volunteers should be commended for work

| September 2008

The story on Page 51 about volunteerism points to a disturbing direction in our nation – and it’s one on which CAPPER’S readers are way ahead of the game.

Our recent readers’ survey revealed that nearly 60 percent of you volunteer. I imagine many of you who don’t would if health issues or transportation challenges didn’t get in your way, along with that pesky need to earn an actual income. But nationally, the number of volunteers is diminishing, and people who volunteer are working more hours to cover the gap.

Knowing you make a difference in someone’s life is a sweet reward, and those of us who volunteer relish that sweetness. Volunteerism is one of the deepest and most abiding qualities in our nation’s character – and has been a part of the American equation from our earliest days. But even enthusiastic volunteers can only do so much.

Back in the 1970s, when the women’s movement stormed the scene, volunteerism was one of the babies that got thrown out with some bathwater that I believe actually needed tossing. Much of the success of our institutions – hospitals, schools, churches – depended on volunteers. We’re now seeing just how great the contributions of that enormous cadre of female unpaid workers were.

What doesn’t work is the condescending attitude many in power have toward the “ladies who volunteer.” It was frustrating back then to get the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head for pouring our hearts and souls into an organization. I don’t think the situation has changed for many organizations. The dependable volunteer becomes part of the furniture and is only missed when she doesn’t show up for a few days.

As a culture, we’d be smart to make it easier for people to volunteer and maybe even give them some tax incentives for their contribution. The social networks in this country must be rewoven if we are to progress as a nation – and our legions of volunteers are the shortest route to that goal. Any organization that depends on the contributions of volunteers ought to do whatever it can to acknowledge their tremendous role and to grant them dignity, laud and honor proportionate to their contributions.

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