In our opinion: Spirit of voluntarism

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 6 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Ted Crandall helps clear fallen trees from the home of his neighbor Shan Stott, right, following a windstorm in Layton, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

The storm never materialized, but that hardly mattered. The residents of Davis County proved something to themselves Sunday, and they united communities in the process. They learned about their own capacity to love and to engage in the lives of others through impressive voluntary service.

To churchgoers, it was a day for religion in action. For everyone involved, it was a moving demonstration of the power of united efforts.

Utahns have a reputation for quickly setting aside whatever else may seem important and lending a hand when a community is in crisis. When weather forecasters predicted another strong wind storm in Davis County, scheduled to hit Sunday night, churches emptied, NFL games were set aside and people by the thousands organized to move massive amounts debris left over from the storm that had uprooted trees and damaged roofs and other property only days earlier. They did in hours what would have taken governments and insurance companies weeks.

Together with a National Guard force mobilized by Gov. Gary Herbert they moved it all to the landfill and to other makeshift dumping sites hastily approved by city officials. When it was over, people went home satisfied, their only payment a lasting spirit of unity and compassion. Participants spoke of being moved by the power and purpose of the effort. We would be surprised to learn of anyone who felt bitterness when the storm never hit.

To seasoned Utahns, none of this should have been a surprise. Utah consistently ranks as the top state in the nation for volunteers. For six years in a row, it has held that spot as measured by data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most recent figures, covering 2010, showed that 44.5 percent of Utah adults volunteered at some time during the year. State officials estimate this contributed about $3.8 billion in service. In other words, that's how much tax money governments would need to collect in order to perform the work people routinely do for others in this state without expecting or receiving a penny in return. One can only imagine the impact on budgets worldwide if this spirit spread in equal measure around the globe.

The Corporation for National and Community Service also compiles statistics on volunteers. Its most recent report ranks Provo, a city two counties south of where the winds were supposed to hit Sunday, as the No. 1 mid-sized city, with a volunteer rate of 62.9 percent. The volunteer spirit exists throughout Utah, and it seems to never disappoint.

That was clear last spring, as well as the year before, when scores of people showed up in various cities and towns to protect homes from flooding due to spring runoff. It was clear in 1983 when more serious floods struck Salt Lake City and other populated areas. It became evident to the world in 2002 as the Salt Lake Winter Olympics benefited from countless volunteers who drove, translated and performed many other services for athletes, media and others.

It is a record that, perhaps more than any other, demonstrates the health and strength of the state.

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