Last week, I enjoyed myself doing volunteer work for the annual Make A Difference Day. For more than 20 years, USA Weekend Magazine and Points of Light joined together to sponsor the largest national day of community service.
But do we ever stop and wonder what happens to the spirit of community service after that day is over?
Buddhist Leader Daisaku Ikeda sat down with civil rights activist Vincent Harding, a friend and confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., and shared an open dialogue that later became a book called “America Will Be!”
In this book, Ikeda said: “Local communities are the foundation on which people build their lives and the environment in which they create social solidarity and the bonds that nurture democracy.”
In today’s society, it seems as if we are quick to “tweet” or share a post on a cause rather than getting our hands dirty at a local soup kitchen. But, that’s just my opinion. Since I was 13, I always felt the need to volunteer. Not for any reason, just because I love to help out. The first place I volunteered was the local Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles. I was too young to work there, so I decided to volunteer with the recreation department over the summer. Even though I didn’t get paid for it, I enjoyed myself.
When our family moved to Killeen in 2001, I was in awe of an organization called the Youth Advisory Commission, a liaison between middle school and high school students and the Killeen City Council to promote awareness of local governmental procedures and policies. Today, YAC members help promote the city’s recycling program and work at various annual events.
In 2002, I decided to join the YAC during my senior year of high school. In December of that same year, the YAC joined forces with the city of Killeen for the Angel Tree Project. I volunteered to distribute presents to homes. Many families were excited to see us come to their homes bearing gifts.
One particular family had a situation I couldn’t shake. I noticed the inside of the home had no furniture. The mother said they had not eaten a “real” meal since the beginning of the month.
My heart ached.
I realized how I was taking my mother for granted, wasting food, leaving the air conditioner on all day, and sometimes complaining about the presents I received, knowing my mother worked two jobs.
In spite of being a 16-year-old with no job, I felt I had to do something. I turned to my English teacher, Ms. Radcliffe, who was acquainted with some nonprofit organizations. We also turned to our local churches. Before the holiday came, Christmas dinner and furniture were donated to the family. The mother was speechless that complete strangers did that for her family. She asked me, “Why did you all do this? Because it’s Christmas?” I looked at her with tears in my eyes and said, “No, because if it was me, I would want someone to show me that people care.”
In today’s economy, I am pretty sure this is still happening, and yes, the only time someone will see any volunteer work is during the holiday season. It needs to go beyond that.
Volunteerism doesn’t have to happen because you were ordered to. It doesn’t have to be giving money or furniture, or to get some spotlight in the newspaper or TV. It’s just merely letting our neighbors know that we’re aware and we care. Do you know someone who complains that the country has lost its morals? Ask that same person what they have done in their own backyard to change that, and notice their silence.
Let’s all give every day in the same spirit we did last Saturday during Make A Difference Day. Let’s be more aware of our surroundings.
If you feel something is wrong in the city or country, do something to make it right.
Ikeda sums it up well, “An aware citizen pays special attention to the relationships between oneself and others as well as that between oneself and the environment, and lives as a responsible participant in society.”