Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

What Do You Think? Is volunteerism being taken for granted by local officials?

Nov 07, 2016 04:55PM ● By Cate Reynolds

Volunteerism: Necessary But Maligned

By Ellen Moyer

Volunteerism is an American tradition. It makes a tremendous contribution to our quality of life. Perhaps taken for granted or so ingrained into our way of life, volunteer contribution is largely ignored and underappreciated.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 65 million Americans—or approximately 27 percent of our adult population—contribute time and talent in volunteer action that supplements public service. In 2012, that amounted to 7.9 billion hours. At a $22 value per hour, that amounts to a whopping impact on services given for free.

Why do we involve ourselves in this basic expression of human relationship?

In the beginning it was religion that fostered American volunteerism. The Great Awakening in the 1700s was a religious revival rebellion against authoritarian religious rule. It emphasized a new standard of personal morality and care for the needy.

Some credit it with playing a key role in democratic thought that supported freedom of religion and a free press that led to the Revolution of 1776. For sure, the Great Awakening promoted goodness and improvement in quality of life.

In the 1850s, the YMCA and YWCA emerged to address unhealthy social conditions resulting from the Industrial Revolution. Scenes in the classic movie Gone With the Wind graphically depict women volunteering aid to Civil War servicemen. Clara Barton’s “Angels of the Battlefield” was the birth of the American Red Cross. In the 1900s, Rotary International, the Salvation Army, and the Peace Corps formed around the universal values of altruism.

Social relationships, empowerment, solidarity, the urge to make a difference to quality of life and community betterment continues to drive volunteerism. Volunteers govern boards of nonprofits. Individuals troop into the environment around us to plant trees and flowers and aquatic grasses. Performing and visual arts groups entertain us for free. Governments at all levels have a slew of Boards and Commissions of citizens who share their time, thought, and talent on public policy for free. The Annapolis City Council has legislated Advisory Boards on Planning, Transportation, Recreation and Parks, Conservation, Art, Environment, Maritime, and more, all volunteers sharing to enhance our quality of life, supplementing public service and saving millions of dollars of public funds. One would think that those who contribute their time and talent to community betterment would be applauded, embraced, and appreciated. Wish it were so.

In 2016, the Annapolis City Council sent a chilling message to members of Boards and Commissions embarking on legislation to describe ways volunteers could be removed from City Boards beyond the normal moral turpitude and lack of attendance. The action was precipitated by the Mayor’s dismissal of an appointee who objected to revised language in the ethics code. The language was described by one as controlling free speech and questioning of public policy and therefore was of questionable constitutionality. No legal brief was offered to affirm or deny the validity of this concern.

However, it does seem out-of-place for elected leaders to wage war on volunteers—citizens who share their time, thought, and talent worth millions of dollars for public service for free; ironically, an American tradition born from religious revitalization to improve moral standards, to do good work, to enhance the quality of life, and the betterment of our community.

When was the last time you volunteered and when was the last time someone said “Thank You” or shared appreciation for your contribution to good things happening in your community? Is volunteerism important or a those who consider themselves our public know-it -all leaders?

What do you think and why?
Please email your thoughts to our Publisher and Editor at: and