Column: Role of volunteers in community hard to overstate

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 28, 2002

Isn’t it strange that people would rather work for free than work for peanuts?

For some reason, volunteering is considered a noble duty, and it’s actually enjoyed by the people who work hard to help others. Yet, when somebody works a job where they do get paid &045; just not very much &045; they feel exploited.

Despite the apparent contradiction, it’s pretty easy to explain, really. When somebody volunteers, they know they’re helping somebody who needs it, and they can feel good about themselves. They can see their efforts making a difference for other people. And they know they are appreciated.

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When you work a low-paying job, on the other hand, even though you’re getting paid for it, you usually don’t feel like the work has much meaning. And you often feel like a sucker; you’re doing your best and being taken advantage of. I’ve worked enough low-paying jobs to know the feeling. Somehow filling bottles in a soap factory or hawking turkey legs at the Renaissance Festival were not duties that had many rewards, even if I was getting a meager paycheck for my efforts.

The idea of volunteering shows that there’s more to life than money. Even in a society that some say is too focused on the dollar, too driven by the need to make a buck, millions of people give of their own time and talents to accomplish a task &045; often not a savory one &045; that simply needs to be done. By definition, these volunteers are not in it for the money. That’s an encouraging comment on the human spirit.

We’ve heard a lot about volunteers this week; it was designated as national volunteer week, and local organizations like the United Way commemmorated it locally. That, along with a new feature the Tribune has started, has made me think about volunteers &045; and notice all the contributions they make to this community.

I started thinking about it a few weeks ago when we Tribune folk began discussing a new weekly feature on volunteers. The idea (which I admit is not mine) is to feature a different volunteer each week. Nothing too grand &045; just a short article and a photo. The purpose is to recognize the work of a volunteer; to give people information on an organization they might want to volunteer for; and, of course, to get another local face in the paper.

We started this new feature, appropriately enough, last Monday &045; the first day of volunteer week. Our photographer, Trish Lease, will be handling the duty, and I think it will be a nice addition to the paper.

When I started thinking of ideas for people we could feature in our &uot;Service Spotlight&uot; (that’s what I’m calling it), it dawned on me just how much impact volunteers have, because ideas started piling up quickly. In fact, I could hardly think of an organization in this town that isn’t somehow affected by the work of volunteers. Some of our biggest institutions like the hospital, the school district and the nursing homes or other senior living facilities are aided regularly by volunteers. Most towns in Freeborn County use volunteer firefighters. Dozens of committees and other groups rely on volunteers. Churches, youth programs, social-service agencies &045; all rely on volunteers to get a lot of things done.

Even here at the Tribune, we have a group of people who volunteer to come in monthly and critique our paper. I’ve mentioned this group, the reader advisory board, before. We’ve been meeting for a few months now. Our members donate an hour every month to our meeting, but they also dedicate extra time all month long to looking at our paper and identifying strengths and weaknesses in a variety of areas. Our current board, as well as past boards, deserve a thank you for their efforts.

I think saying thank you is the least we can do for people who do some good work &045; and do it for reasons other than money.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays. E-mail him at