One Volunteer at a Time

Opinion, The Neighborhood Files, Volunteers in the News

Building Community: One Volunteer at a Time

How do we keep the empathy, charity and spirit of fellowship generated during national and international disasters alive and channeled toward meeting the needs of those in crisis in our own community?

I cry every time I think of what is happening in Japan and elsewhere in our ailing world due to environmental, social and economic stressors. These tears of helplessness and horror are shared by many.

We cannot look at a tragedy of such magnitude and not feel our own mortality, fragileness and connectedness to others. Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, floods, infectious diseases and their human toll soften even the most hardened heart.

Unfortunately, this spark of awareness of human interrelatedness is often short-lived.

Keeping Empathy Alive

After the initial crisis abates and cleanup and rebuilding phases begin, the media often stop supplying us with pictures and human interest stories. The Red Cross and other charitable organizations cease asking for specific contributions.

Our attention naturally returns to personal issues, like paying our mortgage, keeping our job, coping with the soaring price of gasoline and trying to stay healthy.

How can we keep the empathy, charity and spirit of fellowship generated during national and international disasters alive and channeled toward meeting the needs of those in crisis in our community?

I believe this process begins with each of us creating a vision of the kind of community we want to live in, becoming willing to give of our time and energy to create such an environment, and volunteering to assist this process.

Step One: Look Within

This exercise requires a quiet, distraction-free setting. Some find classical music or sounds of nature assist the process. Others prefer silence. 

Imagine yourself in a time of crisis and needing help. Images might include your child running a high temperature, your house catching fire or your backyard flooding and approaching your door. You might envision yourself holding a foreclosure notice or see your food pantry empty.

The right images will come to you as sit in silence.

Then imagine the kind of help you would like to have at that time. You might see the First Aid and Rescue Squad ambulance pull up to your door or hear the sirens from the volunteer fire company and police. Perhaps you can imagine a friendly township social worker helping to walk you through forms to get financial assistance and/or find you and your family a place to live. 

Again, the right images will come as you continue to sit in silence. 

Finally, imagine yourself providing such assistance to others in the township. See yourself as the volunteer EMT, firefighter or social worker and feel the enormity of the help you are giving others. Let yourself feel tears of gratitude and resolve.

Step Two: Become Willing

Most people believe that community volunteering is something they aren’t capable of or don’t have the time to do. This exercise is a way of clearing a mental path for you to become willing to give time and/or financial resources to sustain existing volunteer mutual-help networks. 

After you have a vision of both receiving and giving help during a crisis, simply ask whatever power you believe in to help you become willing to serve in the right volunteer capacity. 

For some, that power is the god of their understanding. For others, it is the sea, the sky or even their own intelligence. What is important is to ask for help in becoming willing to do something you consider to be the right thing. 

You can then go about your business. You will become aware of finding hours in the week to donate, and the inner desire to give service will increase. At some point, you will nod to yourself and say, “It is time.”

Step Three: Do It

This is the step in which we become part of the solution that we may one day need. We donate time and/or money to strengthening the volunteer infrastructure of our town. 

Possibilities include:

  • Joining the volunteer first aid squads and fire companies
  • Assisting in the library
  • Volunteering at a local hospital or nursing facility
  • Volunteering in the school system
  • Volunteering in the parks and recreation programs

Once you have decided how you want to help, contact that organization and ask how you can best serve. Phone numbers for the different organizations are available online and in the Yellow Pages. 

Anthropologist Margaret Mead said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

What is your experience in community volunteering? Where are you currently volunteering? Are there other local resources that would be happy to have volunteers? Please use the “Leave a Comment” form immediately below to share your feelings about this important topic. As many of you know, I wrote a column called Kids and Community for the Central Post/South Brunswick Post for a decade that thrived on reader feedback. Let’s continue that tradition here at the South Brunswick Patch!

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