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December 09, 2016
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From ‘me’ to ‘we;’ Volunteerism, a noble calling

“The broadest and maybe the most meaningful definition of volunteering: Doing more than you have to because you want to, in a cause you consider good.” — Ivan Scheier (www.energizeinc.com/reflect/quote1s.html)

Here in the Upper Delaware River Region one sure sign of spring is awards season, as many of our nonprofit organizations single out special individuals to honor—from the ranks of their own nonprofit members and volunteers to community leaders and others who step up to make a difference. We, too, want to get into the spirit of the season by saying “thank you” to the sung and unsung volunteers for the gift they give to help address the needs in our communities. In addition, we salute not only the many volunteers, but also the nonprofit organizations themselves for doing such valuable work to advance countless worthwhile causes in our region.

It may surprise you to learn that, nationwide, the non-profit sector is a small but important economic engine that provides 5.5% of the nation’s entire GDP. In 2010, nonprofits not only employed 13.7 million people (approximately 10% of the U.S. workforce), but in addition, 62.8 million unpaid volunteers donated 8.1 billion hours of service worth an estimated value of $173 billion. In the U.S. in 2013, the value of one hour of a volunteer’s time was estimated at $22.55. Of course, even as some statisticians are keeping track of these figures, if you know people who volunteer then you also know that the money is not the point and the work they do is priceless.

People volunteer for an endless variety of reasons and for an endless variety of causes. They comfort the sick, encourage young people, fight fires, support a food bank, help out at the local library or public radio station, contribute something to a charity fundraiser, and the list goes on…

Volunteers are people who make a choice to make a difference.

They help shape the communities we live in and the future of those communities.

The causes we volunteer for represent what we stand for, what we believe in.

Around a quarter of all adult Americans do some kind of volunteer work. Sadly, only 20.6% of New York State (NYS) residents volunteer, ranking NYS 50th among the 50 states and Washington, DC. Pennsylvania ranked 29th among the states with 26.7% of residents volunteering (www.volunteeringinamerica.gov). We were particularly disappointed to see how poorly both of these two neighbors faired in the category of “residents participating in public meetings”—only 8.4% for PA and 8.5% for NYS.

In these times, when it is commonplace to complain about the direction of the country, or perhaps the problems in your own municipality or your own neighborhood, why not become a volunteer yourself to address the issues you see? Find yourself a purpose—whether large or small. Make some contribution to someone beyond the realm of your own immediate life and your own family. Do something for someone who will never be able to pay you back. Nurture your own civic spirit to address those unaddressed needs where you live. Express your compassion or your generosity by lending a hand where it’s needed. Remember that everyone can serve.

Once upon a time in frontier America when a family needed a barn and had limited labor and other resources, the entire community gathered to help them build the barn. In a way, this proud rural tradition is alive and well in America today nurtured by those who volunteer, whose each small act of caring makes an impact. And finally, one of the magnificent mysteries of volunteering is that when you help someone else, you help yourself by making a difference in your own life. As Ghandi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Next week the Retired Senior Volunteers Program will honor some of the bright lights of volunteerism in Sullivan County. But remember, these seniors represent only a small portion of all the volunteers that influence the fabric of our local communities. And so, to all of the volunteers we gratefully acknowledge you for your selfless contributions to the communities in the Upper Delaware River Valley. Thank you.