Nowadays, it’s rare to hear of activity going on around Holly without a mention for the need for volunteers. From the popular Dickens Festival to parent groups in the Holly Area School District, there is without a doubt much to do and much people-power needed to do it.
Some of this need for volunteerism comes from the current characteristics of our times. 40 years ago, single-worker, two-parent families were much more prevalent, allowing for more people to be involved throughout the community. Membership in civic, social or fraternal organizations was the paramount networking and involvement vehicle for men and women alike.
Yet, over that time, single-parent households have drastically increased along with households with both parents working. Shifts in social culture reduced the interest in civic organizations. The current recession is also taking its toll on civic engagement—it’s difficult to contribute time and effort to other organizations when one’s own family might be barely scraping by.
The need to encourage civic engagement and volunteerism, to rekindle the flame of involvement and service is not a new movement. In the post-World War II years, America and Americans were understandably concerned with recovering and rebuilding, returning to the same sort of “normalcy” that President Harding called for after World War I. But by the end of the 1950’s, the nation had leveled out commercially, socially and industrially, and about to come of age was a generation of children who would know more progress and success than any previous generation. The human capital of this generation, their energy, talent, and optimism, had to be harnessed.
Fast-forward to today, where despite decades of efforts to inculcate our youth with the fire of civic engagement and volunteerism, there is still a great need for volunteers throughout our communities. Does this represent a failure to make an impact or to stoke that fire? Is there some sort of flaw in the hundreds of studies that have concluded that involvement in service (mandatory or voluntary) in youth leads to a lifetime of service as adults?
Not in the least.
Many of the programs that involve our youth to encourage volunteerism and service are not just “labor drafts,” they’re programs that teach the values behind the service—compassion, understanding, tolerance, justice, mercy. They also build the leadership skills our young people need, not only to be involved for their own sakes, but to organize and inspire other volunteers.
Among the 15 public universities in the State of Michigan, every institution has a student volunteer program. Most have academic service-learning programs and/or centers for civic engagement that serve as clearinghouses for engagement activities. In fact, at Michigan State University, nearly 35% of the student body in 2009 registered for service learning activities, representing more than 16,000 students and hundreds of thousands of man-hours of volunteerism.
When these students graduate, they take those skills and experiences with them into the communities they settle in and put them to work, which may be one reason there is much to do and many people needed to do it. The generations of young people that have been taught and inspired to serve their communities have now become leaders in service, driving myriad new opportunities to make an impact in their worlds, and thus increasing the demand for more volunteers.
That is a good problem to have, and it is the foundation of every successful and progressive community. These communities retain and attract the same young people that have been molded into the seeds of service throughout their youth. In turn, their service becomes part of the culture and identity of the community, perpetuating the vigor and attractiveness, even if the supply of volunteers never exceeds the demand
The work that many of our community leaders are doing now to move Holly forward is not just for the sake of the present, but it is working to ensure that there is fertile soil for those seeds of service in which to find purchase. With the right leadership, organization, and vision motivating and inspiring people to volunteer, the long-term investment in civic engagement will yield a lasting harvest for everyone.