Over My Shoulder: “It takes a village …”

by Ann Robson

To volunteer is to share yourself with your community in the present. To advocate is to share your concerns about your community to those who may be able to help both now and in the future.

Every civic organization needs both. Some of us are better at the daily tasks of helping an organization operate. Some of us are better at promoting the organization and helping plan for the future. There are also those who can do both. Government agencies that have the power of the purse over civic groups are usually quite surprised at the number of volunteers who give countless hours and thus save the general community thousands of dollars.

In our area of the state there are many needs. Without volunteers some services would not be available. Meals on Wheels comes to mind: a hot meal is delivered to those who cannot provide one for themselves and family whether because of need or temporary illness. The Moore County Dept. of Aging also offers a meal delivery. In both cases there is no charge to the recipients but if they can pay something it helps keep these programs funded. Drivers are always needed. Time for one shift depends on where you live and how far you must travel. Total time seldom exceeds two hours. Some volunteer for one day a month, others for one day a week. It’s usually a case of what is convenient for you and what the needs are.

That’s the case with most groups seeking volunteers — you set your time within their framework and are appreciated from the moment you say you’d like to help. Most volunteers will say they get more out of their time given than the organization does. It’s an equal balance with the good feelings shared on both sides.

We tend to think of hospitals and schools being the most in need of volunteers and that is the case. Beyond that are many smaller groups who need free help. If you’re interested in anything from art to zoology, there’s a spot for you. The Boys and Girls Clubs, The Literacy Council, any historical group, any nursing home, The Sunrise Theater, Weymouth Woods, Prancing Horse, any of the thrift shops, The Coalition for Human Care, your neighborhood association would all be delighted to hear from you.

One part of volunteerism that’s often overlooked is serving on the boards of a group. It’s a different type of volunteering but it’s important to the work of the group. Each charitable group must have a charter and an organizational chart of some sort, usually a president or chair, secretary, treasurer and a publicity person at a minimum. Agreeing to serve in any capacity on a governing board is a commitment. There are regular meetings, problems to solve and plans to make. It does help if you have some sort of experience in helping an organization run, but it’s not necessary. A sense of wanting to see success for the group and the people it serves is the main qualification.

Advocacy scares some people who don’t want to have to take a view contrary to a public official. If no one appears before a city council and explains what’s needed then it’s assumed there is no need. A few people speaking to elected officials do have an impact. Several people have a bigger impact. You don’t have to have been a debate winner to speak to elected officials. Merely reminding them that you are a voter in their area gets their attention. When speaking for the Dept. of Aging, I always loved to conclude with a smile and the fact that “seniors have the best voting record of any group.”

Retired or still working, you have something that can help your community. Why not share?

Ann Robson is the author of “Over My Shoulder: Tales of Life and Death and Everything In Between.” She can be reached at overmyshoulder@charter.net .