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The new volunteers

April 07, 1997

The volunteer business is booming, with young people leading the way.

Even though 15 percent of Maryland's high school seniors haven't completed their so-called "Service Learning" requirement for graduation, polls done as a prelude to May's national volunteer summit in Philadelphia show a new interest among young people in helping the poor, sick or elderly.

Gallup organization and Princeton Survey polls show that while 49 percent of all adult Americans did volunteer work of some sort in 1995, the number of involved young people was even higher.

What's driving the soaring numbers, among others things, the polls say, is an effort by organizations that use volunteers to adapt to the youths' desire by to do something more meaningful than stuffing envelopes. And because of work, school and other time constraints, the same groups are finding that they sometimes must get a great deal done in short bursts of activity, instead of asking volunteers for a long-term commitment.

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In our view, the resistance to Maryland's requirement has been overstated by a few who see the preservation of students' free will - to do nothing, if they so choose - as more important than giving something back to the community. Fortunately, there are some employers out there who are reinforcing the idea of building volunteer work into one's daily life.

According to The Associated Press, the Target discount retail store chain enocurages its employees to join volunteer projects like building homes for low-income residents. And AT&T is now offering its employees one paid day off each year if they use it to engage in volunteer activities.

One day of volunteering won't change the world, but like Maryland's gentle requirement - 75 hours over four years' time - it will expose people to to the good they might do, and the satisfaction they might feel if they volunteer. Let the grumblers reflect on the possibility that if their anti-volunteer sentiment prevails, they might someday have a need that nobody will be available to fulfill.

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