I was walking in a park the other day when I ran into “Bill,” a volunteer who counts baby birds in the fourteen bird houses within the park. I’ve met him before. He’s a friendly, cheerful man who can be seen regularly peeking into the birdhouses and then jotting something in a small notebook. I called out to him, “Are you counting baby birds today?” “Yes,” he replied and strolled over to chat with me.
Bill counts birds once a week. He showed me some of the annotations in his notebook. “BB” stands for blue bird. The annotation “4 E” means four eggs were inside the nest. “BS” stands for barn swallow, and “5 F” means there were 5 feathered baby birds in the nest. So
far this year the park has been the nursery for about 30 baby bluebirds and over 50 baby barn swallows. That’s pretty good, Bill says. The data he collects is sent to a university out East that keeps track of the bird population east of the Mississippi River.
I admire people like Bill who volunteer their time for worthy causes. My sister, Mary Ann, sometimes volunteers at her local animal shelter where she walks dogs. I’ve gone with her. It’s amazing how eager the dogs are to go outside. They constantly pull on the leash and enthusiastically sniff everything in sight—grass, bushes, trees, me! Sometimes the dogs can be too big or too rambunctious for my sister to handle. So she drags her 6′ 2″ teenage
grandson along to help with these. On rainy days my sister stays inside and plays with the cats who reward her kindness with their lavish purrs.
My cousin, Ron, volunteers once a week at a local hospital near Atlanta where he wheels patients hither and yon all day long. A retired executive of a major company, Ron says, “Volunteering in a hospital is something I’ve always wanted to do.” I know other people who volunteer by feeding the homeless, writing to prisoners, tutoring kids, fighting fires, answering the phone at the women’s shelter, delivering meals to the homebound, or by cleaning their church each week. The husband of a friend does odd jobs and minor repairs for two elderly widows in his neighborhood. And how many grandparents are caring for their grandkids on a regular basis? You see them everywhere—in parks, at the zoo, in restaurants, at the movies, and at ice-cream stands.
If you think volunteers aren’t important to society, then just answer these questions:
* Who runs the parent-teacher organizations in our schools?
* Who serves on high school and college boards?
* Who works to preserve national landmarks?
* Who coaches youth sports teams?
* Who donates blood?
* Who passes out political flyers or works the polls on election day?
In the U.S. alone over 62 million people volunteered at least once last year. That’s one-fifth of the U.S. population donating over 8 billion hours to some worthy cause. This volunteering is valued conservatively at $173 billion dollars!
Volunteering is a Biblical thing to do. Moses volunteered (albeit reluctantly) to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Ruth volunteered generously to go with her mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem. Isaiah volunteered eagerly to become God’s prophet. Mary volunteered whole-heartedly to become the mother of Jesus. The Good Samaritan volunteered compassionately to help the man lying on the side of the road. And in one way (of course!) we can call Jesus the volunteer par excellence!
Volunteering tends to keep a low profile. But the magnitude and diversity of volunteering is quite amazing. You probably cross paths with volunteers every day no matter where you are in the world. Be mindful of any you run into today. Who knows? You may even meet one in the park counting baby birds!
Are you a volunteer? If so, why do you do it?
Who are some volunteers you run into regularly?