Decline in student volunteers unacceptable

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

There could be hundreds of reasons why a person chooses to volunteer. Tim Sullivan wrote an article in October 2005 for the World Volunteer Web called “Army of volunteers helps quake victims.” He describes the efforts of local townspeople walking miles to Balakot, Pakistan after an earthquake destroyed the city. Thousands traveled down closed roads to offer help. They carried their tools: shovels, pickaxes, crowbars and anything else useful for sifting through piles of rubble.

There were no thoughts of “why should I do this?” or “what is my motivation?”8212;only the knowledge that it needed to be done. Their natural instinct was to help, no matter how meager, and it overrode any thoughts of self-interest. These people were not banking on their efforts looking good on a résumé, or being a requirement to get into an Ivy League college8212;they just felt compelled to help.

The innate altruism of our country, however, is decreasing. A 2007 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms a four-year low in American volunteerism. A 2.6 percent decrease was reported, with 26.2 percent of the 2006 population having volunteered down from 28.8 percent in 2003. The number of college students who volunteer declined even more8212;34.1 percent in 2003 to a paltry 30.7 percent in 2007.

Busy lifestyles, especially those of students, are filled with school, homework, jobs, families, church and extracurricular activities (sports, gym, nail and hair appointments, parties) and could play a huge part in why volunteer numbers are down. Another reason could be personal economic concerns. Then again, technology and the requirement of expertise in specific areas could prompt the inclination that someone better qualified will do it.

More often than not, though, it’s the complete self-absorption that blocks messages prompting the desire to help. The “me, me, me” syndrome consumes a person until no excuse is needed; it’s a well-known fact that, “I’m too busy, too stupid, too fat, too shy, too young, too old, too poor. I couldn’t help anyway.”

A child struggling to learn to read doesn’t care if you’re poor. The elderly lady who lives all alone or in a nursing home would never say, “You’re not old enough to rub lotion on my hands and paint my nails.” People in need don’t judge. They are purely thankful.

If you’re new to the idea of service, the Bennion Community Service Center, located in the Union, offers 54 different student-directed programs. The center promotes community and civic engagement by connecting students with community partners. Freshmen at the U can apply for the Freshman Service Corps, which allows for reflection on the service you provide so that a deeper understanding and appreciation of the issues can be gained.

“As you’re thinking about yourself, your own college career and where you want to go in life, it’s important to think about how you fit in with the rest of the world. Volunteering is how you figure that out,” said Sabrina King, the Bennion Center’s student president. “By getting out to volunteer even once a month to our Saturday service projects, you will be able to make connections between what you learn in the classroom with what is really going on in the real world.”

Volunteering doesn’t have to be completed through a club, but if you need pre-organized events or want to meet other students and have fun while you’re helping, it’s a great way to get started.

Students need to get involved because it’s the right thing to do. The world would look so different if everyone exhibited compassion and dedication to enriching the lives of each other because they knew in their hearts it’s what they are supposed to do. A 4 percent decrease two years in a row just won’t do.

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Alicia Williams