Why community service is now more important than ever

Saddleback Little League Opening Day, 2009I can always tell when it’s time for youth baseball and softball season to start. The weather gets warmer. We get more hours of sunlight. And I get more people reading my Little League opening day speech. But would I still be involved in a position like a Little League president today, especially with all the disincentives of getting involved in the community?

The changing political environment makes community service more important than ever. Here’s why, and why you should step up and volunteer.

Government cutbacks increase the need for volunteer programs

Social services are usually the first programs cut back when the government decides to slash taxes and tighten belts. Food banks, after-school programs, job training, animal shelters, and many other vital services may be curtailed or eliminated completely. Volunteer programs can take up some of the slack. You can assist overworked staff by performing support functions, or form replacement or supplemental programs where government ones have been scrapped. Volunteers are also needed to raise money through donations and petition government officials to restore funding to programs where the need can’t be met by charitable groups alone.

Volunteer programs can rebuild community unity

When you’re coaching a child’s baseball team, it doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is or who you voted for in the last election. You just want the kids to learn and have a good time. I volunteered in Saddleback Little League with parents whose political views are diametrically opposed to mine. But it didn’t matter because we were there to serve the children. Partisan politics fade away when you have a common problem to solve. Maintaining infields and stocking the snack bar requires a team effort. You can’t do this while arguing over some 3 a.m. tweet.

Coming together for a common purpose sets a positive example for the community. We can show how we can set aside our differences, if only for a few hours, to do something that benefits the community as a whole.

Volunteering empowers you

The onslaught of news can make us feel powerless. Situations happen that are beyond our control. Anything we can say about them gets drowned out in the rancorous noise of social media. We feel helpless, and there’s nothing we can do.

But when we volunteer, we realize that we are not powerless, and we can do something. We have skills that we can contribute. We can make a good use of our time. And we feel satisfaction when we see the results of our efforts, like when kids march onto the field in their bright new uniforms or a family takes home a new forever friend from the shelter. We’ve helped make someone’s life better, and that makes us feel better as well.

A challenge to supporters and opponents

If you support this change of government, you assume the responsibility to make it work. You have to demonstrate why your system solves community problems and improves the quality of life better than the alternatives. To do that, it requires you to contribute your time, effort, and money to derive the benefits of your programs. And these benefits have to be for everyone, not just you and the people like you. The African American family, the gay couple, the new immigrants from Libya, the struggling single mother — they are part of your community too. When the community serves all of its members, everyone benefits — including you. When it serves some and excludes others, the community splinters and everyone suffers — including you.

If you oppose this change of government, you have responsibilities too. It’s not enough to complain about the way things are. You need to step up and make them better. Through volunteering, you can make sure your community’s most vulnerable are protected by maintaining the services they depend upon. But when you look for help, don’t turn away from those who disagree with you. They offer skills and resources you need. Focus on common goals that benefit the community as a whole. We have more in common than we think. When we work together, we can break down the barriers of distrust and prejudice that keep us apart.

Uncertain times offer opportunities. We are challenged to meet long-standing needs and long-ignored issues. Volunteering enables us to take advantage of those opportunities and make our communities stronger and more united.