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Cafe Society to discussion volunteerism

By Staff | Nov 25, 2016

The next Cafe Society’s session on Nov. 29 will focus on the American phenomenon of volunteering, an aspect of our culture that probably doesn’t get enough recognitions and nurturing. While not unique among nations as an important social custom and practice, it is certainly one of those defining elements of our way of life. It is something that our leaders at all levels of the political spectrum need to fully take into consideration, plan for, and actively support. It is a complicated kind of social interaction that has its own endearing qualities that bind individuals and communities together. However like every other element of our complex and dynamic socio-economic structure, it is buffeted by forces of change that we have to reckon with and cannot continue to ignore.

Cafe Society discussions are held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. each Tuesday morning in the Rumsey Room of the Shepherd University (SU) Student Center. They are an integral part of the SU Life Long Learning Program and are intended to facilitate a dialog on current issues between the students and older members of our community. There are no fees or registration requirements

CafeSociety facilitator, Mike Austin commented, “As an active member of our community I have found volunteers to be an important human resource and have tried to take full advantage of their important contributions. There are significant attributes (benefits, if you will) that go far beyond just getting the job done, that extend to the quality of the effort and lasting impact on the giver, as much as for the person on the receiving end. I developed this appreciation through a challenging career with FEMA representing our nation in the Civil Emergency Planning efforts of NATO and as the planning officer dealing with disasters and emergencies here in the U.S. There is no lack of talent and earnest, caring people here in the Eastern Panhandle. To a large extent many of the essential entities in our neck of the woods are dependent on this valuable resource: The Volunteer Fire Department, the Community Club, the Library, the Historic Shepherdstown Commission, The Potomac-Mecklenburg Garden Club, Care Givers, Hospice of the Panhandle, Rotary, The Day Care Center, SAIL, even Shepherd University are just a few examples. The actual list extends to several pages. There is a trite expression that we often use: “having too much of a good thing”, but in this case it’s a matter of “not having enough of a good thing.” We know the value of volunteers, there simply aren’t enough to go around. Perhaps it is a matter of managing expectations, maybe we are expecting too much from our thinning ranks of volunteers.”

Austin went on to say, “I am reluctant to trim our sails, reign in individual and organizational initiatives and efforts to show that we care, and want to make a difference. A better approach is to try to do a better job of encouraging and supporting volunteers finding synergies among and between the various organizations that would allow us to do more with less. One approach would be to raise the visibility of what we already have to work with, sharpen the focus on the many existing organizations and efforts underway before launching new, and often competing efforts. There is a critical mass needed when working with volunteers to exploit the social dynamics inherent in people striving to accomplish something together not something that they have to do , but something that they want to do. We do this all the time in the U.S. military to build a team to crew a ship, man an airplane or put boots on the ground somewhere. The morale of our volunteers is just as important for our civilian “Good Samaritans” as it is for having esprit de corps in the armed services. Some of the answer lies in giving appropriate recognition. A pat on the back, smile or warm expression of appreciation never hurts, but volunteer efforts have to be fulfilling as well, and fun. They need to be well planned with discrete, measurable goals, and enjoyable. As in most things, how you get there is as important as the end result. We should have a good discussion with lots of concrete examples from our midst to draw upon.”