Praise for Helping Hands
By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.
National Volunteer Week occurs this year during the week of April 17 through 23. The annual commemoration, which is currently organized by the Points of Light Foundation, provides a formal opportunity to appreciate the work done by our nation’s volunteers and shine a spotlight on their efforts.
The week-long observance was established in 1974 by presidential proclamation. It builds on our centuries-long history of public service. Benjamin Franklin is credited with organizing the country’s first volunteer fire department in 1736. Other notable developments include the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, the Peace Corps in 1961, and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) in 1964.
Since its inception, National Volunteer Week has been proclaimed annually by all US presidents. The 2021 proclamation noted, “Throughout this unprecedented year, people across America have given help and hope by checking on isolated seniors, helping the jobless, and tutoring students to help them stay on track in school. Their compassion reminds us that even in our darkest hours, Americans look out for one another.”
The document went on to state, “When more Americans step forward to serve, it renews our sense of community and strengthens our democracy. Acts of service unite people from different backgrounds and allow us to truly see and hear one another.” It said that volunteers “make our country stronger, more prosperous, and ready for the future.”
The significance of volunteer efforts is well known. According to VolunteerHub, two out of three Americans volunteer in some capacity, including informal situations, and one in four volunteer through organized events or nonprofit entities. Volunteer time is estimated to be worth an average of $28.54 per hour. Overall, it contributes an annual value of more than $184 billion dollars to the nation’s economy.
At Southside Virginia Community College, our students and staff exhibit a strong volunteer ethic. Last month, a group of our students went to a nursing home to visit patients and participate in a group activity. Earlier in the semester, students collected donations for local animal shelters. In addition, SVCC regularly collaborates with the American Red Cross to host blood drives and with Centra Health to provide mammography services.
Individual students also serve as shining examples. For example, Sakina Muhammad volunteers at her little brother's private school because she enjoys helping the kids. Ryan Craighead routinely volunteers at his school, his church, and at the local nursing home because he likes helping the community and sharing his talents.
Another student, Richard Gwizdale, recalls many of his past experiences, including helping cook Brunswick stew for fundraisers, building a school flower garden, and assisting with many tasks through his church community. He says, “I live my life by a very simple credo: live life to the fullest and treat others the way you would like to be treated in return. I’m the type of person that will jump right into the action and help anyone in need regardless of what it is.”
When people step up in the face of challenge, they create meaningful change. Each one of us can follow their example and do something. Some will tackle big jobs, and others will help through smaller acts of kindness or even just learning about issues. I salute all volunteers like Sakina, Ryan, Richard, and others who help strengthen our communities and our nation.
Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.