Involuntary volunteering

Dianne St. Jean
Involuntary volunteering

I know, the title of my editorial appears to be a contradiction. While the root of both words comes from the Latin “voluntaries” which means “voluntary; of one’s free will”, the prefix “in” at the beginning of the word “involuntary” signifies “not”.

Involuntary actions are things we do but don’t think about, like breathing. So technically, how can doing a willful act, such as volunteering, be involuntary?

Here’s the answer: When the people doing the volunteering don’t have to think twice about it – rather, it comes as naturally to them as breathing.

April 23 to 29 is National Volunteer Week, a time when we are encouraged to intentionally recall the efforts of those individuals who offer their services to others on a free will basis without any guarantee of a return. It is also meant to encourage us to do the same.

From observing what has been happening over this month, it is quite obvious that the residents of McBride and those helping them don’t need a special week to spur them into volunteering.

Not only does the response to the fire at the BKB Cedar mill and its aftermath more than exemplify the true meaning of volunteer, it encapsulates the seeming paradox of “involuntarily volunteering”.

In other words, everyone who stepped up to the plate in this situation didn’t have to think twice.

Take, for example, members of the fire departments, both local and from other municipalities. More than one individual had remarked to me about the grueling hours put in by these members. “I go to the site, and no matter what time of day or night, the same people are always there,” was the common statement.

And, what some of the population may still not realize or really consider is that those who come to our rescue from fire departments are not paid for what they do. When we see the words “volunteer fire department”, how many of us really grasp the significance of the word “volunteer”, especially in light of the risk they put themselves in to help others?

Then there’s the response from the community at large, offering free lunches and coffee to those on the ground. And it didn’t stop there. Government and associated support groups quickly took action helping those directly affected, going beyond what is technically “their job”.

It is unfortunate that it often takes a crisis or tragedy for us to recognize the value of those around us who volunteer. More so, involuntary volunteering should not require a crisis to manifest.

Sadly, volunteer numbers are dropping each year. It appears that fewer individuals in today’s society are willing to donate their time, talents and efforts to community organizations and events. What previously were volunteer positions are now expected to be paid positions.

As fewer volunteers step up, more community events or services fold.

We can always find excuses or blame others for these failures, but in most cases, all it really comes down to is a lack of volunteers.

Something to think about during National Volunteer Week