Volunteerism not dead, just needs revived

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 14, 2008

To borrow from a sports analogy, it seems that we live in an “armchair quarterback” society where the majority of people are content to sit on the sidelines and explain how they would do things.

Well, if they actually did things, that is.

Sadly, we are seeing a cultural shift where involvement in the community and civic organizations is looked at as a burden rather than a blessing.

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Nowhere is this being felt more strongly than in civic clubs, right here in Lawrence County and across the nation.

Membership continues to decline as older members drop out and clubs struggle to replace them with younger, civic-minded individuals.

As a member of nearly a half a dozen Ironton-area organizations, I keep seeing this problem with my own eyes and almost always single-handedly drop the average age of the clubs when I join.

Young adults simply aren’t getting involved.

“I see a drop in all organizations. I don’t understand it, but it seems that society is too busy to stop and help each other just to help,” said Ironton Kiwanis president Larry Anderson, who is on his second tour of duty as president of a club that has about 15 members, only about half of which are active. “It seems everyone wants something for helping, they just don’t want to help because it is the right thing to do.”

But don’t think that Kiwanis is alone. The Lions Clubs of this county are facing this problem. So is Rotary. And the Friends of Ironton. And Ironton in Bloom. And the Co-Operative Club and just about any other civic group you can think of.

Even when individuals join, keeping them becomes the second challenge.

Ray “Doc” Payne has seen it first hand. As a member of Rotary for more than 35 years, he has seen the civic involvement decline over the years and understands that just getting someone to join is only half the battle.

“Last year or so, I sponsored four or five people to join,” he said. “None are still members.”

I’m not sure where this fundamental need within our community has gotten off course.

Maybe we don’t do a good job of letting people know who we are as groups and how we work to make our communities better.

“I believe that people need to see that the civic clubs are accomplishing something meaningful and not just ‘meeting,’” said Carl Darling, the new president of the Ironton Rotary Club.

Education may be the key to the future for these organizations.

Kiwanis is a civic club focused on helping children. Lions Clubs center on helping those who are sight-impaired. Rotary deals with the eradication of polio and providing quality drinking water across the world. The Friends of Ironton try to stimulate the economy by improving the city and creating attractions that draw people here.

All these clubs — and all the others in the community — also do lots of other projects of all types on the local level and are able to accomplish so much with so few members.

Thousands of dollars are donated to area charities. Countless lives are touched. Maybe it means a Christmas dinner they wouldn’t get otherwise. Maybe it is a scholarship to seek higher education. Maybe it is a pair of eyeglasses to see or a dictionary to expand their mind.

The list of positive changes goes on and on.

Volunteerism isn’t dead it just may need to be resuscitated a bit. Each of us can be the EMTs.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.