At Your Service: June 4, 2008

On Saturday evening the MARK Group celebrated 30 years of service to this community. As events go, it was among the best: awards were given to the deserving; the food was good and presented in appetizing ways and the dancing was energetic. There was one thing, however, that made the evening extraordinary.
In the midst of the portion dedicated to ceremony, Ernie Steiglehner and Joan Lawrence-Bauer began what I always think of as “the presentation of dignitaries.” Standing in front were those whose vision gave life some 30 years ago to the M-ARK Project. Ernie asked members of the M-ARK Board of Directors and all the elected officials to stand, then former members of the board. But they didn’t stop there. Next asked to stand were all those who volunteer their efforts to various M-ARK projects, followed by all those who donate their time to the other many not-for-profit organizations that serve the community.
With almost everyone in the room standing, (there were many who didn’t stand but should have) they invited us to look around and see what it takes to make a community work. On their feet were firemen, hospital auxiliary members, those who keep the arts alive and the church pews full. It was sobering to be reminded that it does indeed take us all.
In more urban environments, many of those standing would consider what they do a career. The services they provide are part of a job for which they are paid a living wage. Here, for a multitude of folks, the things they do are done simply because it is the right thing to do. This is the work done during their off hours, at a fire in the middle of the night, at meetings on evenings they could spend with their families, on their feet at a scout bake sale or pancake breakfast.
There are times when we feel burdened and over-taxed by our volunteer efforts. I don’t know anyone who isn’t, from time to time, exhausted from the work they have done with one group or another. We complain about the personality conflicts that arise in the course of getting things done. We say, “next time I will say ‘No,’” But, when the next time comes, those who can be counted on are there – fresh and ready to get the job done. When they finish with one, they are off to the next event or cause that calls for their time and efforts.
Even those who earn a paycheck from a not-for-profit, spend their off time working with other groups. We see them behind the tables at fund raising events where we contribute whatever we can to provide the financial wherewithal that sustains the work. They usher us to our seats and serve meals at the dinners that give sustenance to our entertainments.
Volunteers are the fabric that lies over this community like a blanket of love. It is woven with the hands of those that have and those that have not. It is colored with the personalities of the forceful and the meek. It gives protection from the harsh realities of day-to-day life for many. For others, it gives warmth from the cold of isolation and loneliness. In other instances, it is more like the cape that is flashed in a paso doble representing the passion and fire of artistic expression and beauty.
That which is done in the name of community by volunteers is part of what makes this a special place. Here we find the teacher beside the laborer and banker shoveling ashes off a charred porch, men and women at a stove preparing meals for seniors, and on one occasion or another everyone dancing with the band. It is special and at the same time very ordinary. It is simply what people do in order to have a community work; it is done because this is our home.
Whoever you are, whatever you do…Thank you.