Volunteerism in America: Retro or Active?
Text: Kim Larson, pic: Istock by Getty Images
The notion of volunteerism, for some, evokes a wistful if antiquated memory of do-gooders in woolen cloaks wiping the brows of injured soldiers on the battlefield. For others, it’s a vibrant image of Peace Corps volunteers fanning out across the globe during the Kennedy administration. For others still, volunteerism represents the best of contemporary society, citizens engaged in unremunerated activities to meet the needs of fellow citizens where government programs fall short.
The fact is, it’s all of that and a lot more. A recent posting on Facebook, for example, activated a swarm of volunteers across the US where a third of the National Park service sites remain closed. The government, mired in a partial shutdown due to a political stalemate over a wall on the southern border of the country, has frozen funding and parks have suffered significantly from illegal off-road vehicles to tree damage and trash accumulation. To the rescue, a squadron of active citizens volunteering their time to act as watchdogs and maintenance crews. Some have labeled this Volunteer Love.
The American tradition of philanthropy
Let’s back up for a moment to reflect on the roots and origins of such altruism. Aesop is quoted as saying “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”. Likewise, Aristotle from an earlier era, states “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good”.
In modern day lingo, many call it “paying it forward”, the idea of “giving back”. Volunteers bring the human touch, the glue, some say, that holds it all together. And one of the Founding Fathers of America, Thomas Jefferson inspired others with the promise “May I never get too busy in my own affairs that I fail to respond to the needs of others”.