America has a long tradition of generosity - whether through monetary donations to a school or charity, providing free products, or time. Volunteerism is often overlooked but essential to making our society work.
The Ohlson family of Cornelius (Charles, Antoinette and teen son Brendon), who recently spent each Saturday for three months helping build a Habitat for Humanity home, observed that, compared to the citizens of their home country, South Africa, Americans are very generous.
In South Africa, where they resided until 1996, "it's every man for himself," said Charles Ohlson.
If Americans are so generous, especially by volunteering services, do we know about such generosity among those in our circles? Shouldn't we recognize all volunteers, rather than the few?
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The Ohlsons' assertion inspired me to think about the many individuals I have known who gave many hours to causes - the coaches of my daughter's softball teams, friends who organize events that raise significant funds for charities, the neighbor who washes the clothing of homeless folks once a week while they spend a night at his church, and so on. I'll wager that most people we know now or knew in the past devote sustained energy to community service in addition to donating money to causes - whether such causes are run by incorporated entities or not.
Independent Sector, an organization devoted to advancing the common good, noted in 2001 that 44 percent of adults in the U.S. volunteer - most on a regular basis, and the dollar value of that donated time was more than $239 billion.
Volunteering in America reports, "Between 2008 and 2010, the average national volunteer rate was 26.5 percent.
Volunteer rate means the percentage of people who responded on a Census supplemental survey that they had performed unpaid volunteer activities for or through an organization during the previous12-month period. North Carolina ranked close to the bottom.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "About 62.8 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2009 and September 2010."
Are Americans markedly more generous than other citizens of the world? Studies report that we are. Study results differ.
Volunteers are driven to take on their unpaid tasks for a host of reasons. "It is work motivated by our spiritual and political beliefs, by the values of our culture and our families, by our seeking for greater fulfillment in our lives, by our desire to connect with one another and to exercise our power to make a difference in the lives of others," wrote Kang-Hyun Lee, world president of the International Association for Volunteer Effort.
As we approach Valentine's Day, it's a appropriate time to share our admiration and appreciation for volunteers. I also encourage you to show some love to all the unsung, unpaid people in our community who walk the walk to help our society hum: Big Brothers/Sisters, teachers of Sunday school, delivers of meals on wheels, officers of civic clubs, leaders of Scouts, mentors to impoverished kids, raisers of funds, stickers of address labels, champions of coat drives, workers on Habitat homes, helpers of the homeless, those who shelter the battered or abandoned, coaches of teams, and ... you fill in the blank.
Where to begin if you want to find cause-related volunteer opportunities? Ask your employer or your religious institution's volunteer coordinator or start researching online at www.volunteermatch.org.