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  • Rusty Brooks, Ph.D.

Volunteering: How To Be A Good Citizen

Updated: Jul 4

Volunteering is something you hear about daily. For example, whenever there is a natural disaster, such as the recent icy weather in the Midwest, you hear a call for volunteers to organize to respond to the crisis. The response can be providing food, water, building materials, clothing, or often, more importantly, providing your time to respond to help those who the disaster has impacted.

There is a long tradition of volunteerism in the United States. Benjamin Franklin organized the first volunteer fire department in 1736 in Philadelphia. Even today, almost 70 percent of firefighters in the US are volunteer firefighters. During the American Revolutionary War, citizens banded together to boycott British goods, to volunteer as militia members to provide citizen troops to fight the professional British Army, and to provide needed supplies to support the new US military under George Washington.

During the nineteenth century, civic organizations such as the Rotary Club, Lions Club, and Kiwanis Clubs provided a way for people to organize to assist with community needs in education, healthcare, and poverty.

Other organizations such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross, and Peace Corp are examples of the solid American value to give of one’s time to help others in need. There are hundreds of volunteer organizations around the US, many unique to the local community, organized by local citizens to band their friends and neighbors together to help address local problems or assist their fellow citizens who have needs through no fault of their own. Again, maybe the local volunteer organizations are organized to respond to a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado, a flood, or a fire.

But many volunteer organizations are in place to support the government, education, healthcare, or law enforcement agencies who do not have the workforce or money to address the many challenges they face. That is another reason that volunteerism exists, to provide opportunities for citizens to be an additional workforce to the traditional community organizations tasked with specific roles that make communities livable, vibrant, and safe.

For example, during the current COVID pandemic, many people have volunteered to help hospitals and health clinics manage and administer vaccines. Citizens have stepped up to help because there is a critical need to respond to the pandemic quickly and efficiently. Still, there are not enough doctors and nurses available to inoculate all the people who need to be vaccinated promptly and safely.

Another example is the challenge of educating all our citizens, both young and old. Unfortunately, there will never be enough teachers, classrooms, or money to provide all the education, and continuing education, that all our citizens need. That is why so many volunteer opportunities and organizations exist to help educate youth and adults on the many different topics and skills we all need to function in society and get and hold a job.

Another example is crime prevention. Unfortunately, there will never be enough police to prevent crime and protect all the citizens and neighborhoods. That is why you see Citizen and Neighborhood Watch Programs in your community. Citizens volunteer to help watch out for their neighbors, neighbors' property, and neighbor’s children. This is one of the best examples of how volunteering can benefit others and the volunteer. By helping protect your neighbor’s, you are making your community safer for you as well.

By watching out for others, by helping our neighbors when they have a need or problem, we are helping make our communities and neighborhoods better places. Better for our neighbors and better for ourselves. Being a good citizen means being a good neighbor. Being a good neighbor helps make better communities. Better communities help ensure you can be happy, healthy, and safe. Better communities are necessary to help you survive and thrive economically, socially, and spiritually.

Remember, it all starts with volunteering. Step up today!


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