- Chapter 35 -


The great amount of volunteer activity in our country is so much taken for granted that we do not realize what an American phenomenon it is.  There are many thousands of organizations, with their boards, committees, and workers involving millions of individuals.  So much so that Peter Drucker, the well known political and social commentator, calls it the Third Sector which "employs" (without pay) more people than either the government or private enterprise.  In other countries, people pay, through taxes, for many services done by volunteers in the U.S. How to choose volunteer and non-profit service for greatest satisfaction and pleasure based on your interests and abilities

This group action began in our country with such community activities as barn raising and corn husking, when neighbor helped neighbor.  When Alexis de Tocqueville made his memorable visit in 1831 which resulted in the classic Democracy in America, he was impressed with the number of meetings designed to achieve community action, which he saw as a manifestation of the freedom of association which we had then and have now.

This combined volunteer effort has value for society, but it also provides enjoyment for those who are involved in individual effort.  Here are some examples of different kinds of volunteerism and the satisfaction the participants received:

A friend of mine was the coach of a basketball team composed of young teenagers from inner city federal housing units.  The opposing team, from the St. Thomas Housing Project, was composed of older and bigger players.  Our team did well, holding the score to a tie at halftime but succumbed in the end.  It was an exciting game, and I yelled for our team like a college sophomore.

The important point is that the coach made his team feel good about themselves.  He congratulated them on their excellent playing and sportsmanship, and bought them all snow cones.  And the coach had every reason to feel good himself.  It was an appealing scene to witness.

It is helpful when young people are encouraged to start at an early age to participate in community service, in such areas, for example, as cleaning up the environment.  As an example, David, age 4, chased the garbage man down the street, with an empty Coke can, calling out, "You forgot something."

For two Christmases our house was jammed full of hundreds of presents.  They were not for us, and only some were from us, but were part of the "Angel Tree Project" sponsored by the Prison Fellowship, for which Rubie headed up the donor phase for several years in our city.  In this program chaplains at prisons find out from inmates what their children would like for Christmas, with the opportunity to choose three gifts for each.  Then volunteers purchase the presents, and bring them to a central distribution point, from which other volunteers take them to the children as gifts from the parents who are in prison.  A piece of stationery, with "Thank You" printed at the top, and a stamped envelope addressed to the prisoner are also given to each child to write the parent.  In many cases, this is the only contact which has taken place since the parent's imprisonment.

Moving stories result from these efforts.  Relationships are reestablished, and families reconciled.  Joy is brought to many thousands of children on a national basis who are suffering from situations not of their creation.  It is clear that Rubie, the donors, the distributors, and the many volunteers involved derive great satisfaction from their participation.

Once a beloved employee at our church, close to retirement age, got up at a luncheon given in her honor and read her "Learning to Read" book, haltingly but clearly.  One of our members had taught her how to read through "Operation Mainstream".  There wasn't a dry eye among us in the audience.

One final point.  DON'T DO THINGS FOR OTHERS WITH THE EXPECTATION OF RECEIVING APPRECIATION.  DO THEM FOR THE PERSONAL SATISFACTION YOU WILL RECEIVE.  Yes, there are people who express gratitude in an appealing manner, but from most you will hear nothing.  So if you are looking for responses, you will undergo disappointments.

On the happy and rare occasions when someone says, "And what can I do for you in return?" my answer is, "Pass it on."  Then I quote an ancient fable.  An old man was planting an olive tree and was chided by others who pointed out that he would never live to enjoy the fruit.  His answer was, "They planted and I ate."

With regard to the satisfaction derived from volunteering, a man who was being given a significant award for his contributions to his city described the enjoyment he received from his activities, and that to receive an award was like giving a boy a prize because he finished all his ice cream.

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