If we try hard enough, it is possible to imagine a world where people are not of a mind to help one another out of a sense of duty or kindness, or in a belief that life is more rich and full of colour when we are making the lives of others better.
But let us try for a second.
A world without volunteers is a world where people who are sick, or hungry, or alone, or sad, might find a little help from the government, but they don’t get all the help they need. They wait in endless lines and fill out forms detailing their miseries in the hopes they are pathetic enough to qualify for this program or that.
Most children cannot afford sports, and there are few recreational facilities available for those who can afford them. With every position in minor sports filled as a paying job, and every moment attached to an economic rate, it is only the truly wealthy whose children can afford even the most basic sports experience.
Seniors who are on their own remain on their own. A mandatory age might have to be set for a time when people are warehoused in care facilities, if only to curb the numbers of lonely, isolated people struggling to get by. Perhaps many find themselves competing in the same lines as the homeless, or the sick and hungry, in order to have their basic needs met.
There are no community events, save for those we pay for ourselves. State-sponsored fun days could be arranged, but they would be expensive and dreary, as in place of bright-eyed volunteers managing the events you would have paid employees simply there to do a job before moving on to some other state-sponsored fun day, in some other town.
Town facilities sit mostly empty, as activity groups would struggle to raise the funds to fill them. Food banks are shadows of what they are now. Churches are not places to get together and grow community spirit by helping and sharing.
A micro-transaction life, where every moment is accounted for. Every second is on a bottom line.
It sounds more than a little crazy, but stop and think about where you find volunteers in your world. You find them helping the sick, and the poor, and the tired. You find them helping the old, and you find them helping the young. You find them organizing sports, activities, and clubs for your children. You find them in church. You find them next door. They fill in the cracks and wedges and scrapes, in order to make the canvas of our lives singular and beautiful and full of life and colour.
Volunteer Canada has some handy stats for available for anyone interested in seeing just how much of an impact volunteers have on our lives. The numbers have been gleaned from the Canada Survey on Giving, Volunteering, and Participating, 2010. This survey tells us:
There are an estimated 13.3 million Canadians contributing 2.1 billion hours annually. That’s the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs; 47 per cent of Canadians volunteer; volunteers typically contribute 156 hours per year; and young Canadians, aged 15 to 24, volunteer more than any other age group at a rate of 58 per cent.
This might be a particularly startling fact to anyone who sees the next generation as a bunch of shiftless, A.D.D. social media addicts. Chances are, those kids are doing more than you are!
Economically, it is estimated these volunteers contribute more than $50 billion to the national economy.
Statistics aside, numbers do not tell us the single most important part of volunteering: that of people interacting with other people, to make everyone’s lives a little better. Numbers do not fill bellies or hand out warm coats when it is cold; numbers do not teach our kids how to skate or how to properly stand in the batter’s box; and numbers do not touch our hearts by being a kind friend when we need it most.
Economy may be the engine that drives our society, but, if that is the case, volunteerism is definitely the oil that keeps things running smoothly. It is the wipers that help us see the world clearly. It is the tires that keep us true on our path when everything seems to be streaking by. Around here, it is difficult to think of any community activity which doesn’t involve volunteers. It is more than what we do. It’s who we are.
Your postal code may make you part of a community, but volunteers make you a family. They bind society and create that shared, treasured experience we all seek most in our lives.
So this is the week we say “thank-you” to the volunteers in our lives, the ones who are making our lives easier and better, and are helping create memorable childhood memories for our kids, and are making the lives of our seniors, our sick, and our tired just a little bit easier.
It is through you, the volunteers, that all things are possible.