This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

March 12, 2003 - Volunteering

Recently, I spent a Saturday selling tickets for the Rotary Clubs of Castle Rock 7th Annual Ducky Derby and Street Fest. The money raised through this family-oriented event is split between the Castle Rock Senior Center, and the Women's Crisis Center.

I was outside the local Safeway grocery store, which generously allowed us the opportunity to appeal to their foot traffic. (King Soopers has also provided this opportunity.) And in about two hours, I sold fifty tickets.

I enjoyed it. The causes are good, deserving of support. Besides, people tickle me. Selling like that is a kind of game: how do you get people to part with $5 for a community event? Answer: with good humor, and a quick appeal to the cause that speaks to them most directly.

Since then, I've been thinking about the logic of both volunteerism and fundraising. We are in a recession. Many people have lost their jobs. That means that on the one hand, more non-profits are looking for help. It also means that people may have less to give.

But they do give, both their time (as with the Rotarians), and their money. Why?

The literature on volunteerism is wide and deep. But the decision is very personal.

To some, volunteering is, or ought to be, pure altruism. It's " do-gooding" for its own sake. But the truth is, volunteering also gives benefits to the volunteer.

Some seek to be more involved in their community. Others are trying to learn something new, either as a way to occupy their minds generally, or to build up their skills for the job market.

Some people volunteer just as a way to meet people with similar interests. People with similar interests are good bets for future friends, or even spouses.

Some people volunteer for fun. They have excess energy, brainpower, time. They want the sheer pleasure of living up to their capacity for life.

Others volunteer for different personal rewards. They feel that righteous sense of putting in some time on the cause. Most mature adults at some point recognize that they have been the beneficiary of the contributions of many others. "Giving back" is literally that -- repaying some of the interest on the debt we all owe to the people who underwrote our education, built our streets, tackled the tricky issues of zoning and water use, defended our nation from foreign invaders, and on and on.

It could be, as well, that people are volunteering to fulfill a course requirement. For instance, Douglas County high schools now require some community service in order to graduate.

There is another rare kind of volunteer that sees volunteerism as something that families can do together. Maybe they clean up a patch of highway, collect clothes for the homeless, organize a food drive, or work a library booksale. Such activities build a common bond of purpose, and of precious time spent together.

And therein lies a tale. Research has shown that the people likeliest to volunteer, or to donate money to a cause, do so because they were exposed to that behavior as children. In other words, we learn to invest in our communities by seeing our parents do so.

It could be that you, the reader did NOT come from such a family. In that case, you have a choice: be nothing more than a product of your childhood, or take that first step.

Why not become a role model for your children in a way that never occurred to your parents? Why not establish a new tradition, such that all the members of your family now point with pride to their contributions to the library, or church, or town, or cause? Know that your family has made a difference.

That gift not only outlives the moment, it may outlive you as well.

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