Volunteerism is alive and well in America. Stepping forward for the community good has been enshrined since colonial times in the ethic of our country, from joining the militia to raising a barn. Our news feature this week, "Volunteers for America" by Mary Ellen Bell, tells how volunteerism has become a short-term career decision for many recent college graduates.
As Bell asserts, volunteerism as a career path got its popular start rather recently. John Kennedy, having discovered the resonance of the volunteer theme during the 1960 presidential campaign, wasted no time in appointing his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to get the Peace Corps up and running by March 1961, a scant two months after Kennedy took office.
The Peace Corps was the first of the government-engendered volunteer programs of the postwar era, followed by VISTA, Americorps and others. Of course, there were similar domestic programs of many stripes during the post-Depression years, but they were primarily conceived as public works programs rather than altruistic outreach.
What we're hearing from many recent college grads is that the volunteer route has become something of an economic necessity. Volunteerism gives young people the opportunity to attain work and life skills that only real-world involvement can provide. And may I say, that's a wise choice. As one who went that route many years ago (Peace Corps, Liberia, '65-'67), I can attest that the experience is life-changing in many ways. It most certainly speeds up the maturization and self-reliance processes. It also teaches you that there is a wide, wide range of human values and behaviors, many you've never imagined.
Volunteerism is not the sole province of the young, nor is it restricted to exotic places. Ordinary folks who want the volunteer experience, whether short or long term, can find options at VolunteerYourTime.org. Sponsored by RSVP (a service group), MATC, the Morgridge Center at the UW, Edgewood College and the United Way, VYT will take you by the hand and lead you through the process. It could be just what you're looking for.