The Volunteer Spirit

Today I had a conversation with a new friend about the spirit of volunteerism in the present day. He has struck me as someone who can be crabby and disillusioned because within the organization where we met, he volunteers loads of his time while he believes many others do not.

I’m new there, and who knows, maybe he saw me as new blood and easy to recruit. Maybe I appeared enthusiastic, energetic and most importantly, unemployed with lots of time on my hands! So he quickly saw this as an opportunity to try to solicit me for some of the many tasks that needed attending.


Normally I have nothing against volunteering my time. In fact, I come from a background of this sort of thing. A million years ago I ran a Food Co-op where I was paid for 20 hours a week, but worked 40. And in the great world of emergency medicine, when I first started out 20 years ago, I paid a baby sitter so I could go and volunteer my time on the ambulance.

But this was all in the past. Today we see a new day dawning in the age of this kind of volunteer. Today getting someone to volunteer their time on an ambulance means no-one will come if you call 911. Small towns all over New England face the same challenge and had to figure out how to get their ‘buses’ out the door. And the obvious answer was: pay the EMT’s.

Why has it all changed? Are people less devoted to causes or wanting to help than I was so many years ago? This may be only part of the answer.

A real answer I believe is time. Today time means money for most people/families. Many ‘families’ may be single parent households that when they are not working must be home with their children and can’t really be out volunteering. Who would watch the kids? Or even in two income families: the money just doesn’t stretch as far, so people now have 2 or 3 jobs and they need to get paid. It leaves very little time to do much else.


Some of it though is that people just don’t have the same ethics anymore about donating time I think. Our world has become less about giving and more about taking. People forget that giving brings so much back to us! I think when EMS became a job for me I liked it less, but I needed to get paid–it was now a career.

I am sad for my grumpy friend that it bothers him so much about all the people who don’t help and volunteer. He’s resentful it seems to me. Today I told him that if he is to do this kind of ‘work’, then he must do it joyfully and willingly or not at all. The ones not doing it don’t care that he’s upset that they aren’t helping and it only takes away from the gift he’s giving. He agreed and I hope it helped his sense of  injustice.

So to all those of you out there that volunteer or have volunteered in your life: I say thank you! Time is a precious and most valuable gift to give because it can never be returned. I hope you all reap the rewards you deserve from donating this priceless treasure. And for those of you that are considering even an hour of your time: the payback is immeasurable.

We all should be able to look back on our lives and hopefully say: I left something good behind. A moment of your time to someone, an animal, your church, the elderly, the homeless or any organization that needs your time will leave you with more than any paycheck ever could!


4 thoughts on “The Volunteer Spirit

  1. yes — i love volunteering – i wish i didn’t have to work to pay all the bills- or at least keep getting behind on them a bit slower — on the other hand — volunteers need to be appropriately appreciated, and not taken advantage of – and respected for their contributions – properly trained and kept up to date – in those situations it’s a win win – EL

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