Friday, May 1, 2015

A Volunteer Commitment

Millions of people around the world get up, go to work and get paid for their efforts on a daily basis. And while people in paid positions help make the cogs of the daily grind go around, they don't do it alone. No, just as so many people get paid to work, millions also volunteer their time, energy and skills to complement paid work. In fact, so many organizations in our communities simply wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for volunteer efforts.

The tradition of volunteerism is really a way of life in America. So much so that a few years ago when I was asked to give a talk on "America" to high school students in Albania, my topic was volunteering. First some facts: in 2013, a total of 62.6 million Americans volunteered their time. This means that 25.4% of Americans give freely of their time each year. Their unpaid efforts annually equate to 7.7 billion man hours valued at $173 billion dollars. Imagine if all of these volunteers got paid in cash for their efforts. But these are simply statistics; what does all of this mean to each of us on a daily basis?

All I have to do is look around my own little military community and I see volunteers everywhere. There are parents volunteering in their children's classrooms, native English speakers running language groups so others can improve their language skills and pet lovers dedicating their time to local shelters. There are people volunteering to teach crafts, to organize trips, men and women leading scout troops and others yet collecting donations for orphanages. And lets not forget all of the youth sports programs that are the mainstay of after school activities for children everywhere. The coaches are all volunteers and as one of them, I can tell you both the importance of giving of my time and the real time it takes to make each practice a positive experience for everyone involved. As is the case with most volunteer activities you can't just show up and expect things to go smoothly; it takes pre-planning and organization for a practice to go off without a hitch.

All of this unpaid volunteer time is actually like....well....paid work. And for me, there lies the catch. I know first hand that volunteering takes time and it take commitment but all I ask is that if you are one of the people who steps forward to volunteer, you give it your all. Its as simple as that. People volunteer for a variety of reasons and I applaud them all. After all, for whatever reason they have decided that they want to give of themselves and give back to their community. And I know there are times when I have too much going on to step forward to volunteer so when that is the case, I keep my hand down and don't. But when I do, I view it as a job. That means being committed to the activity, showing up when I say I will and being mentally as well as physically present when required. Just as with paid employment, some days this is easier to do than others but slacking simply isn't an option. If only everyone felt this way.

In following with my theme of youth sports, when we sign up as volunteer coaches we are making a promise to our young players that we will be there. And at an age when youth athletics is as much about sportsmanship and skills that carry into life off of the field as it is about learning the intricacies of the game, keeping our promises is important. As a coach repeatedly canceling practices or simply not showing up is sending the wrong message. Would a volunteer behave this way if they were getting paid? Probably not; but then again, maybe they would.

Volunteers do help make the world go around but if we step forward to volunteer we need to be committed to our efforts. Anything else is simply unacceptable. Don't you agree?

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