by Dr. Marshall Lysne
In April of 2021, I wrote column entitled “Where Have All the Young Men Gone?”
In part, it was a lament about the lack of volunteerism in our communities and a glimpse into the possible causes of why this is happening. Of immediate concern at that time was the overriding presence of COVID-19 and its devastating effect on practically every aspect of our life.
Nationally, according to AmeriCorps Research, a branch of the United States Census Bureau, 11% of the volunteer organizations in America ceased to function as a direct result of COVID-19.
Apart from that, more than one in five people that normally volunteered before COVID were reluctant to do so during the pandemic for fear of contracting the disease themselves or transmitting it to others. As a result, approximately 65% of volunteer organizations were affected by a decrease in available volunteer help.
But that was then. Unfortunately, the lingering effects of COVID and the transition it had on our society are still here.
While it is true that volunteerism was on a gradual decline prior to COVID, the abrupt change in our lifestyles, both at work and in our complex social interactions, caused a seismic shift in how many of us viewed our responsibilities to ourselves and our communities.
As a result of this forced separation from our supplemental obligations — that is, those that we knew were important and should be done, but that were not essential to our survival — it became much more comfortable to let our participation and at times, our interest, lapse until our world began to right itself again.
Well, our world has probably returned to as normal as it is going to get for some time, at least as far as the pandemic is concerned.
Oh, COVID is still around and is showing some signs of a resurgence, but we are now in possession of a number of coping mechanisms ranging from the availability of vaccines to increased public awareness of general health protocols that have been tried and tested and have been incorporated into our daily life to the point of being nearly second nature.
But volunteerism is still down. Nationally, volunteerism is down about 7%. In some areas, the rate of volunteers is down by 20% or more. Oftentimes, these decreases in numbers have a domino effect throughout the community.
Few, if any, volunteer organizations are in business to gain funds or accolades for themselves. They are service organizations whose main purpose is to fill a need in the community. They raise funds through various methods such as selling food at community events, working for other organizations for which they are compensated, or sponsoring various activities such as bingo or other game nights.
The funds that are raised are funneled back into the community in the form of improvements in playgrounds, funding academic scholarships, supplementing needs at the local library, assisting in purchasing athletic equipment at the local high school, and numerous other local and civic endeavors.
The problem is, if there are a limited number of volunteers, or no volunteers, the ability to raise funds for projects that are needed in the community go unsupported and their needs unmet.
Locally, the Tomorrow River Lions Club has for many years sponsored Amherst’s fireworks at the Fourth of July Celebration. The funds to sponsor those fireworks come from proceeds of the sale of chicken dinners as part of the day-long Fourth of July activities at the fairgrounds.
This past year, due to lack of volunteers and the necessity of raising prices for the dinners, the chicken dinner was not held, hence funding for the fireworks is greatly diminished. While there is funding in place for this year, projections for next year do not look good.
This is not the only community activity in our area that is struggling with the issue of lack of help and increases in costs. A popular feature of the Iola Winter Carnival, the Norwegian Lutefisk supper, was canceled last year and likely will be again for exactly those reasons. Other area organizations are experiencing similar issues.
The sad fact of the matter is, if there is not an increase in participation in the organizations that have in the past and are attempting in the present to support some of these cherished community activities, there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when the benefits we have enjoyed in our community because of the efforts of volunteers will no longer exist.
It is extremely likely that at some point in our lifetime we will have the need for help of one type or another from a friend, a neighbor, a church, or an organization in our community for something that we simply cannot do ourselves. When those events occur, let us be thankful that someone or a group of someones are standing by to lend a hand.
Maybe it time is to find something that you are interested in and donate some time for the betterment of the community and yourself. I think you will find that the satisfaction you will get from helping do something for the benefit of others far outweighs the cost of an hour or two of your time.
[Editor’s note: You can find contact information and meeting times for many area service organizations on page 8 of every issue of the Spirit.
In the coming months, we’ll profile as many of these groups as possible. If your service organization or volunteer group is interested in being covered, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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