Hear the Call
What the gift of your time means to our community
The theater is dark, but there is always a group of people inside; fixing a door, vacuuming the hallway, stocking refreshments, reading over a script for the next show, preparing for another show.
Backstage, a woman, a volunteer actor, sits quietly, harnessing all of her energy for the stage. The week before, she had been in a hospital bed, devastated that she would miss a performance. She never misses a performance. Shows do not get canceled and tickets are not returned. This is a pure form of sacrifice: making sure that you continue to perform and outperform each time, so that the audience who needs to step away from their lives and laugh for a moment can do that without the burden of knowing your burdens.
These are volunteers; artisans who do this work for the betterment of our city, providing not just entertainment but a cultural discussion that is necessary for human survival. By no means are they the only ones who volunteer their time, energy, strength, and sometimes their own money to a cause that means so much to them that they will sacrifice to make it happen. Habitat for Humanity, ServErie, The Free Store, and countless other volunteer groups perform services and provide aid to make life better for our residents, to make the city a little cleaner, a little safer.
Volunteers have always been the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. These volunteers do simple tasks like stuffing envelopes and entering data into a spreadsheet. They also do complex tasks like organizing events and fundraisers; and they know, most of all, that they are better people for it because it feeds their souls.
This is what Erie needs. I believe this is the only way we can survive. With our city thrust into the news recently, we have become aware of the negative attention. It was okay as long as we were bashing our own city, but not so nice when others do it. Complacency seems to be lifting and more people are pulling back the curtain to reveal the economic constraints, societal boundaries, and entrenched nepotism that has stalled our progress.
We already have several people stepping up and offering their expertise and energy to political positions, when they wouldn't have thought to do so before. Except for the mayor, most positions are unpaid or only include a small stipend. They do not seek monetary enrichment, but a chance to elevate new voices and enact significant change. This, too, is a sacrifice and one that needs to be acknowledged, like the volunteers who do work in our city every day.
You are welcome to sit back, drink a beer, and watch a game. You are most certainly entitled to it and you earned it because you worked so hard throughout the week. But the truth is, you are needed. These organizations are taxed with too much work and not enough hands.
But what you are missing when you don't volunteer is so much more. The momentum you get when you participate in service is astronomical; it does more for our overall psyche and sense of community. It binds us together and in this divisive climate, we could use each other to lean on.
If we want our city to survive – thrive even – if we want to show the rest of the country and maybe even ourselves that we can make this happen, then we need to do more than post ideas on Facebook; we need more than 12 people willing to give up their time to run for office; we need more than the various churches and nonprofits attempting to clean up neighborhoods and build programs for children.
We need everyone. Each person needs to be part of the equation. We need to do this to feed our collective souls. And when you say you don't have time or the energy, then remember that woman who left for the theater and got ready for a show on the same day that she was released from the hospital. Because after her magnificent performance and sacrifice, you have no excuse.
Margo Wolfe, Ph.D. has been an active volunteer in the Erie community for over 20 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org