Guest column: Sign up! Make it happen in 2024

Todd Volker was named executive director of Habitat for Humanity La Salle, Bureau and Putnam Counties.

It’s not rocket science! It’s fun. Find a cool area to get into, and get into it – helping out, volunteering – makes our great U.S. of A. exactly what it is – a land of Free People doing great things together and making our great America even greater.

Join in! It’s fun. Volunteers get into all kindsa things. Volunteers make communities fantastic.

Did I say it’s also fun? Yeah. You – YOU! – get to make a difference. You can kick the tires. It’s there, it’s real, it’s real world, not some blah, blah, hype, computery, on-line, Nowhere-but-Everywhere, SimuConVirtualMetaFakeReality v. 2.1.

No, friend! It’s real life outside of the screens. It’s about being a real-life, genuine, autonomous adult standing on his own two feet. You can be so much more than a mere consumer. You can be a Citizen.

Ain’t the real world GRAND? You’re a real person doing real things. Then you sit back with a drink and smile – ’cause you did good in the world! Drive by sometime and take a look – we made things better. So VOLUNTEER in 2024!

I’ve been a volunteer many-a-time ... cleaned latrines, pulled crap out of the river, repaired cabins, schlepped spaghetti, reset old tombstones and warshed dirty dishes. But it’s not all scut work. As a volunteer I’ve helped to plant trees here and there in towns around the Illinois Valley, and I’ve helped teach Girl Scouts how to ice skate and Boy Scouts how to start fires. I’ve organized tennis tournaments, written newsletters – and I’ve even sung sweetly in church!

[Side note: I reckon Mandated Volunteerism by schools is okay but not the best. It’s forced labor. Genuine volunteerism should come from the heart and not from government-sanctioned curriculum requirements ... but I figure at least the kids learn how the world is put together. They see that many solutions just cannot come from business or government but come through people cooperating to solve tough community problems. They can see adults improving the world and doing responsible things. And maybe they come to feel that giving to the community is a worthwhile thing?]

Some towns enlist volunteers through volunteer fairs. Waltz through the room, find out about what the different groups, clubs, agencies do and then sign up for something fun. Some communities recruit through the local chambers of commerce, saying “here’s our organizations and it’s great to participate.” The Ottawa Chamber, for instance, lists opportunities for volunteers directly on its website.

Much, much good community work comes through local churches organizing to take care of those less well-off, inspired by the Biblical message of doing charitable works of mercy. Hugely! The world’s largest and most impactful organization, helping the most people across the globe, is the Catholic Church. Fun fact. Billions served.

Think about it: one of the many great things about America is that if people see a need, they can meet the challenge. People can come together, organize, and make the change. Volunteers give the kind of help that mere cash or guv’mint handouts can’t provide. So sign up! Be real. Make your life big. Make your community bigger.

Todd Volker lives in Ottawa with his wife and son, and they enjoy reading, kayaking, hiking, tennis and camping. He’s a lifelong learner with books in his hands.