I distinctly remember lamenting the death of voluntarism in the United States.
"We are raising a generation of non-givers and non-doers," I pontificated in my most knowledgeable voice. "Kids today are not being taught the joys of service. Someone (else, I meant) should do something about it."A year after making that catch-all pronouncement, I want to set the record straight.
Voluntarism is alive and thriving. I hadn't recognized it because it comes in so many different sizes and shapes and fills such a variety of needs.
I also failed to recognize it because I wasn't doing anything about voluntarism myself, so I wasn't tuned in to it. Because I sat at home and thought about ways I could help, instead of getting out and helping, I assumed everyone else was just like me.
During the past six months as social services reporter at the Deseret News, I have come in contact with literally hundreds of people who make giving a part of their daily routines. And the areas they enrich through the gift of time, thought and effort are as varied as the people themselves.
I used to think of volunteers as young girls in pink uniforms working in hospitals, hospices and clinics. These volunteers do, fortunately, exist.
But there are other ways of giving that don't always receive attention, and seldom come to mind when we consider voluntarism, which is literally the gift of self.
Many donate their time to serve on area boards and committees, whether for handicapped, charitable, or political action groups.
There are "team" givers, like the students, faculty and staff who are involved in the Lowell Bennion Center at the University of Utah, and there are individuals who find a need and set out to fill it alone.
Volunteering can mean spending an hour at a nursing home playing chess with residents. A volunteer can be the man who goes door-to-door providing voter information for local political candidates.
Or it can just as easily be the woman who spends two hours a week teaching English to refugees or reading to illiterate Americans. I know a man who drives handicapped people to the doctor when they need it.
Area foundations, like the Arthritis Foundation or the American Cancer Society, rely heavily on unpaid workers to provide information and services to the community at large.
Young men and women serve as Big Brothers and Sisters to children in need. The United Way, which provides funding for hundreds of nonprofit programs in this area, works volunteers in its fundraising campaigns. Look around your neighborhood. Voluntarism is seldom flashy. It's most often quiet people doing things quietly for others.
I live a few doors down the street from a busy mother of three who finds time to take an elderly neighbor to the grocery store every week.
Two young men who live near me can frequently be seen helping friends and neighbors by doing simple car repairs. Local church youth groups do yard work for the elderly. None of these people bang a drum and yell, "Look at what I'm doing." They just do it.
Senior citizens are a particularly formidable resource of volunteers. A luncheon for volunteers held at the Salt Palace last year took up two rooms. These people, many with extra time on their hands, keep busy and active by interacting with others.
The gift of self doesn't seem to operate on any schedule. Some people work a volunteer position like a job, for a set amount of time daily or weekly.
Others make a special effort to reach out to others during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Local food pantries and thrift stores report that donations rise a good deal during that season.
Everywhere I turn, I see people doing for each other, just like in "the good old days." People do get involved.
So if you hear someone pontificating in her most knowledgeable voice about the demise of the volunteer spirit, don't you believe it. In Utah, it's a viable force, changing lives.
If you're not personally involved in some way, maybe you should be.