My Turn: Joy of volunteerism

  • Marguerite Willis

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

When I awake for no reason in the middle of the night between 2 and 5 o’clock, I turn the bedside radio to BBC — British Broadcasting Company. At times it is just background noise, but sometimes I catch interesting interviews ahead of U.S. news. Recently I heard Prince Harry, as editor of the day for the BBC, do an interview with former President Barack Obama.

Obama’s comments on the joy of volunteer work struck a deep chord within me.

This is perhaps one of the most observable differences among the generations of the Boomers, Gen X and the Millenniums. I was reminded recently by a Louise Penny novel’s main character, Inspector Gamache, that the first generation makes the money, the second generation spends it, and the third generation blows it. The story is an old one. I first encountered it in “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck as a young woman. Also JFK’s words still resonate with me.

I wonder if this is a parallel story that partially explains our local loss of volunteers. I know there are multiple reasons, but the bottom line for social, fraternal, religious, and even local government is a slow organizational death with severely declining members. Is this a cultural shift? Or, have we forgotten to teach our next generations? We all may have opinions on this but the problem exists nonetheless.

When Obama mentioned the joy of volunteering, I immediately recalled my early days as an EMT traveling up to Heath in the night where blackness reigns with no ambient light distortion. As a newcomer to West County, I would arrive in Heath with map out (before GPS) and occasionally would get turned around and lost. But after the first time, I no longer worried because that first time I got on the radio and called out to “any Heath personnel” that I was lost. You can not imagine my relief to hear, “Come ahead, Marguerite, we see your lights,” and then within seconds I could see their lights.

People do not know how often EMTs and first responders stop what they are doing, even getting out of bed in the middle of the night, to go and help their neighbors. First responders are invaluable to EMTs, given the time and distances involved in West County as they can and do go directly to a patient.

There is not enough money anywhere to cover that dedication or work. All emergency personnel share a common understanding that neighbors need neighbors occasionally. Before becoming an EMT, I called the old fire number for ambulance dispatch. Within minutes, a first responder was at our door. Such a relief when your spouse is having a heart attack and that it is a priceless medicine. The gratitude in a patient’s eyes speaks volumes.

The price of wisdom is time. I understand the various constraints, the enormity of regulation and certification of so many volunteer activities, and our loss of young people but the current situation is not sustainable. For myself, I am singing a mantra to regulators “stop complicating a cheese pizza” and let neighbors help neighbors again and feel the joy.

The Franklin Regional Council of Governments and several West County towns have met to start discussions on where we go from here with fire and EMS. Let your Selectboard know what you think.

Marguerite Willis lives in Charlemont.