Me? A volunteer?
I grew up in the small settlement of The Current, on the tip of North Eleuthera. My early memories of church, school and community are filled with images of adults volunteering to help, coach, guide and support the children and young people of the community.
Images from my memories include a couple in the settlement who opened their home every Tuesday night to welcome young people in for bible study, discussion and refreshments. Another image is of men offering their trucks to take young people to the beach for swimming or a camp fire. Other images are of women working with summer vacation bible school programs, and men coaching volleyball in the hot summer evenings.
When my career took me to the settlement of Tarpum Bay as the youth director for the Methodist Church I learned even more lessons regarding the role of adults and older persons helping to coach, guide and support young people. In fact, during the years that I served the entire island of Eleuthera, including Current Island, Harbour Island and Spanish Wells, the level of support and involvement was amazing.
I look back on those years and realize how we as adults, trained and untrained, were all responding to the call to teach life skills through volunteerism. We often think of teaching as standing before the room of students, doling out information. We were teaching through service; we taught compassion, empathy, communication skills, conflict resolution, work ethic and much more.
For more than two decades I witnessed men and women in their thirties, forties and fifties giving evenings and weekends to mentor, coach and support young adults in their settlements. Whether it was Janet Cates in Rock Sound, Rosie Gibson in Savannah Sound, Emily Petty in Governor’s Harbour, or the late Pastor Henry Whyte in James’ Cistern, the motivation was the same: these people understood instructional value of volunteering to work with persons in need of personal growth and development.
This is not just “Family Island” living I’m talking about. Adults from every community, rural or urban, can become radically involved and embrace coaching, mentoring and counselling as integral parts of educating the sons and daughters of The Bahamas. Education is much more than passing exams and going to college or getting a job. Education is also about valuing civil society, building better communities and bringing about a better quality of life for individuals and families. Where do we go to learn these things?
My experience today, with the rapid decline of volunteerism, is that it is becoming more difficult to find adults who will give of their time to coach and mentor others. Yes, we do still have hundreds of committed people who know the importance of volunteering and who have benefited from having an adult mentor work with them, especially during their younger years. And yes, I do know that we still have courageous groups and individuals who lead and do such good work as volunteers.
Yet I believe there is room for more. We can make light work of transforming this country, if we fully utilize volunteer work as an educational medium, intentionally engaging in service with the purpose of teaching others how to be excellent citizens both through rhetoric and example.
Volunteerism throughout the world and here in The Bahamas is grounded in the belief that a single person can make a difference in either another individual’s life or in a community issue.
Collectively, we are suffering from the effects of crime and violence in the country, and yet there is evidence of scores of good and decent citizens moving away from community involvement to a more individualistic existence. Be the reason, fear of crime or the rejection of any form of altruism, the truth is we have a growing population who do not see their neighbor as a “brother” or “sister” and certainly do not want to be bothered about the misguided youth.
Despite the good work of many churches in the country, the service clubs, our schools and our social welfare departments, there are still thousands of people who fall outside of these agencies. How do we respond to that? I believe we respond the way I remember, the way that works. All of us, each and every one, let’s do something. Volunteering need not be burdensome. It can be done according to your personal schedule and budget. If you are not able to give financially, then give of your time, knowledge, skill or talent. If you cannot give to 20, do not neglect to assist just that one person. By our actions we are teaching one another how to live.
The reality is that there are people who are available and willing to help. I have faith in that. The well-know Jesuit priest, the late Henri Nouwen, suggests in his book “Reaching Out” that we all make the move from hostility to hospitality. It is not what we may think. Nouwen describes hospitality as a life stance where we are always ready to serve; rather than fold our arms, we open our arms; rather than stay to ourselves, we move to a place of radical engagement in our communities.
We need more volunteers in our communities. The more we have the better our country will become.
- Dr. Reginald W. Eldon is the director of education and training for the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church and dean for Queen’s College Centre for Further Education. He can be reached at [email protected].