Why volunteer? ’We make a life by what we give’

As published in The Cambrian

…by what you give

A  periodical column by Charmaine Coimbra


I was the shadow. Black covered my tiny body from the shiny black patent leather tap shoes on my feet to the black derby hat perched on top of my curly hair. Charlie, my godfather and a former professional dancer from St. Louis, led me on stage with “Me and My Shadow” blaring through the school auditorium public address system. Barely 4 years old, I followed his every move and tapped my way into a lifetime of volunteerism.

“Encore!” cheered the audience at this dime-a-dip and talent show fundraiser for our local chapter of the Grange. Charlie heard opportunity. He took the microphone and said, “Me and my shadow are happy to give you another performance. But first Shadow and I are going to pass the hat for that scholarship fund. If we raise another $20, we have another little dance for you.”

Coins and greenbacks filled our derby hats. George M. Cohan’s “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” spun on the old record player, and we gave a sneak preview of the dance we had been rehearsing for the upcoming Fourth of July barbecue to raise money for a fellow running for the state Assembly.

That was 1952. Like millions of Americans, I still shadow Charlie’s devotion to community service.

According to a December 2014 report from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), “1 in 4 Americans volunteered through an organization and two-thirds helped their neighbors last year.”

CNCS breaks down the numbers:

  • 62.6 million adults (25.4 percent) volunteered through an organization.
  • Americans volunteered nearly 7.7 billion hours last year.
  • The estimated value of this volunteer service is nearly $173 billion.
  • More than 138 million Americans (62.5 percent) helped neighbors with watching each other’s children, helping with shopping or house sitting.

CNCS further breaks down volunteers as follows:

  • Americans ages 35-44 had the highest volunteer rate (31.3 percent) followed by those ages 45-54 (29.4 percent). One in five of those defined as “Millennials,” those of ages 16-31, (21.7 percent) volunteered.
  • The age groups with the highest median hours among volunteers are ages 65-74 (92 hours) and those 75 and older (90 hours).
  • The volunteer rate of parents with children younger than 18 (32.9 percent) remained higher than the population as a whole (25.4 percent) and for those without children younger than 18 (22.7 percent).
  • The volunteer rate among young adults (ages 18-24) attending college was 26.7 percent, nearly double the volunteer rate of young adults not attending college (13.5 percent).

So let’s give each other a collective pat on the back for a job well done. But ask those leading most any local nonprofit, and they would sure love a few more volunteers at the helm.

This corner of our local news will feature those volunteer opportunities and talents because, “… we make a life by what we give.”*

Note: “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give,” is often attributed to Winston Churchill. However, according to the Churchill Centre, there is no record of him speaking these exact words.

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