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Volunteerism Summit: Lots of Skepticism
Earlier this week, we asked for your reaction to the Philadelphia volunteerism summit and stories about your own experiences with volunteering. Here's a sampling of the e-mail we got, and if you'd like to comment on an issue of the day, send us e-mail at editor@AllPolitics.com Be sure to include your name and home town.
'Latest Publicity Stunt'
I'm having difficulty with all this. Volunteering is an American tradition. What is foggy bottom trying to pull with this latest publicity stunt?
Proposals for "mandatory" volunteering? What kind of double-speak is this? Our children are coming out of the social experiment called school unable to read, write, or perform simple mathematics and now we are proposing to "force" them to "volunteer" as a condition of graduation. This resembles more a pool of uneducated child labor.
The North Dakota floods define Americans willingness to volunteer. These people pitched in without Washington ordering them to volunteer. Has American society degenerated to the point where the natural instinct of Americans no longer exists and needs to be mandated? I don't think so. This is just another aspect of American society this administration feels the need to pervert. Somehow child labor under the guise of volunteerism never occurred to me.
-- Robin Mallon, Richardson, Texas, April 29
'Our Best Role Models Are Each Other'
This country is full of wonderful people who volunteer to their local communities. Most people who are busy working and caring for children still find time for PTA or coaching sports and helping in classrooms. Many more of us who are older spend most of our time volunteering.
I have been working for our local senior center for the last seven years, since my retirement. My husband and I have earned over $300,00 for them running a bingo there. I also still spend time with students at school and have volunteered at a retirement hospital. When the center needed painting, it was volunteers that did the work and bought the paint. There are millions of people out here in the real world , and our best role models are each other. We work because we care about each other, and our institutions. It is in our hearts and our souls.
WE DO NOT NEED BILL CLINTON, AL GORE, COLIN POWELL OR ANY OTHER POLITICIAN TO SHOW US HOW TO CARE.
-- Marianne Tavelli, Fort Bragg, Calif., April 25
'Is Nothing Sacred?'
Is nothing sacred or revered enough to be free from political harassment? America has been a shining example of generosity and a supply of some of the most helpful and unselfish people for the world.
Unfortunately we are now being made to feel guilty and selfish for not giving more of ourselves. What the president forgets is that because of the government's burden on us in the form of excessive tax we now are forced to work harder and longer to simply supply ourselves and our own families with the basic necessities.
Now, because it can no longer squeeze any more funds from the people, it taxes our time. This issue is difficult for me. I believe in the people and I believe it is the people, not the federal government, who can solve the problems of society. I don't believe, however, that people should be mandated or manipulated into giving.
It is a shame that the good intentions and citizenship of Colin Powell and George Bush are being used politically by Clinton. I served nine years in the U.S. Navy and am disgusted to hear someone speak so arrogantly about volunteering when that same person was unwilling to do what his country asked of him and cowardly refused to sacrifice for the gift of freedom this country offers. I suppose that is what it comes down to -- give us the freedom to give, lessen our burden and the people will respond with overflowing philanthropy.
-- Andrew Hathaway, Malta, N.Y., April 28
'Just Another Lie'
If there is any compensation offered -- forgiveness of interest, business-paid day off -- then describing such service as "volunteerism" is just another lie. Like "the era of big government is over," it will remain a lie as long as the national debt continues to get bigger.
A "volunteer" provides services for no compensation. Bribes are not required. Any compensation just makes the service a second job. I thought that was called moonlighting.
And if community service is required as part of a high school diploma, that's fine as long as equivalent class time is dropped from the student's academic requirements. Otherwise, I'd call that "involuntary servitude". I think that is -- or should be -- against the child labor laws.
-- Philip Widing, Atlanta, Ga., April 28
'Live As I Choose'
Yes, I have voluntarily helped people. NO! I don't think this is a government issue.
I object most strenuously the implication that "we owe anything to anyone, much less everyone." My worth as a human being is NOT determined by my servitude to others. My life is mine to live as I choose and if and when I choose to help someone, it will be because that someone exemplifies the values I share, NOT merely because they are in need. Need is not a claim.
The major problem we face today is the perception by so many who receive benefits from others, either via government programs or charity, that they are entitled to them simply because they take up space on the planet. The idea that the benevolence of others has to be earned by one's own efforts and decent character is gone. Thus we see people on the dole spit in the faces (or much worse) of the very people whose lifeblood is extorted from them to sustain the lives of those in need.
The benevolence of the American people has been demonstrated over and over throughout our history. People helping their neighbors is one of the most under-reported facts of our history. But it is a free people, a people who are prosperous and well-disposed toward those who have misfortune visited upon them, that help. The less freedom, the less benevolence. Furthermore, when people helped neighbors, those giving of themselves were in a position to judge the worthiness of those in need. Anyone wishing to receive help had the implicit requirement to first be a good neighbor himself. Contrast that to those who demonstrate and riot because "they are not getting enough handouts."
Get the "help thy neighbor" out of the coercive hands of government and let a free people express their values by their choices of whom to help. Our violent society will be transformed in a generation.
-- Nick Mark, Omaha, Neb., April 29
'Another Costly Program'
My wife and I have raised seven children and have volunteered for years and have never required that the government tell me to do so. I do not want the government to begin managing volunteer effort as the next thing you will know there will be a new government agency, and we already have a "volunteer" effort that is called Americorps which is nothing more than another costly program and scam on the taxpayer.
I don't care how many ex-presidents endorse this program; it is another bad idea. Also why should there be volunteers for something that we already pay for like TEACHING.
-- Dwight H. Mensinger, April 29
It is my personal view that the businesses want to lay off more people and take on volunteers so that they can get what they want, FATTER POCKETS AND LESS TAXES.
I feel that with all of the unemployment in the United States that companies should not be allowed to accept volunteers.
I feel that EVERYONE in this day and age should be paid something for their time. That includes NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS. They ask for the people to "DONATE" this and that and then they have the nerve to ask for volunteers so that all the "DONATIONS" that are sold can be put back into the pockets of the owners of these non-profit organizations.
Here in the Fremont, Ohio area I know of some of the so-called non-profit organizations where the big shots drive cars better than President Clinton drives and the same goes for the employees of these so-call non-profit organizations.
When these organizations send in their TAX status the government is so swamped with other things that these companies and organizations are over-looked.
Maybe some one should go undercover, yes I have been watching too much TV, so that the government can catch these companies and organizations in the act.
-- Murry Faraday, Fremont, Ohio, April 29
As someone who votes, obeys the law, has a job, is productive and harms none, I find the recent comments by the president and Powell to be truly vile. If anything, such calls to find the wretched and help them in order to claim morality are sure to keep me as far away for the playing field as possible. I am far too just to look at an unfortunate and tell him that my way to grace is to exploit his situation. To do so would add a terrible insult to whatever misfortunes he has already suffered. I will not steal anyone's pride.
-- Bill Capehart, Rapid City, S.D., April 29
'Fifteen Hours of Every Forty-Hour Work Week'
In the true sense of what the president of the United States intends it to be understood, I volunteer a good portion of my time.
That's right. I give 15 hours of every 40-hour work week to "voluntarily" pay my federal, FICA and Medicare taxes. I give another five hours to "voluntarily" pay my state, local, sales and ad valorem taxes.
I'm already making "voluntary" contributions to my government. I'll be damned if I'll be forced to make any more.
-- John Holton, Marietta, Ga., April 29
'Good For The Soul'
I actually think volunteering is good for the soul. If my boss gave me paid time off to volunteer in the community, I would. I've actually written down phone numbers of things I was interested in, but have to admit that I didn't take the first step and call. I know that if I had specific time set aside for it, that I would gladly do it.
-- Susan, Santa Barbara, Ca., April 29
'Must Be Spontaneous'
I'm sorry to say that I don't volunteer much, and I'm not likely to do so now that the government is involved. I think to be effective as a volunteer it must be spontaneous and out of the goodness of one's heart, not because a bunch of clowns think we need to do it.
-- Joe Kern, April 29
'A Professional Volunteer'
I guess in my community, you could say I am known as a professional volunteer. I am a caretaker of a privately-owned nature preserve. This is basically a gratis position. The past three summers I have helped coach a summer youth girls' softball team. For two years before that, my husband and I coached t-ball. The past couple of years, we have coached junior bowling. I have had several friends ask why. I guess I just feel there is a desperate need to do such.
On March 8th of this year, it became clearer than ever why I do this. After finishing coaching 20+ children (ages 5-12) in bowling, my husband and I checked out an overlook to the nature preserve. It is a rather hidden away spot with seasonal access. What we found on that snowy morning has made a dramatic impact on my life. There atop this isolated and remote lookout was a pickup truck, radio playing loudly and the body of a 19-year-old boy who had committed suicide with a shotgun.
After the police responded another vehicle came up the hill. A young man whom I had known since he was probably eight years old came out of the vehicle and started toward the truck. The officer asked him to stop. At this point the young man said the pickup truck was his brother's. At this point, I realized that I had come across the body of a friend of my own children. I will always have this scene haunting me when I think of children in need of mentors. So many of our youth are troubled and need help. If we could all just give of ourselves, maybe we could reach some of these children who have given up. It is time to stop putting a dollar amount on our efforts. If something I say or teach to one of these children I coach may give them a reason to go on when faced with difficulty, then I can think of no greater reward. If we lose one of our children to suicide, drugs, crime, whatever, we have lost a part of ourselves. Save them and save our future.
Do you want to make a difference? VOLUNTEER!!!!!!!
-- Patti Coan, Byron, N.Y., April 29
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