Give Back to Your Community

December 8th, 2016

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

Barbara Lamb

2016 Volunteer of the Year Barb Lamb

Geneva is a community filled with people who give of their time and money to support causes they believe in.  When I first moved to Geneva about 12 years ago, I found a place to call home and after a few months I wanted to volunteer, not only to meet others of a like mind, but to support my adopted city and perhaps make a positive difference where I live.  Because of this I joined organizations and volunteered for many events.  I worked at concerts, book sales, food events, community fairs, fundraisers, and more.  One thing I have come to notice about community participation is that the majority of the people helping out at events are older.

Why is that?  I have often heard non-profits lament the lack of younger volunteers and express the fear that if young and middle aged folks don’t get more involved many organizations will go the way of the dodo bird.  Take a look at your favorite charity, church, library, or museum and you will notice that the average age tends toward the 60s.  I know it is true that people old enough to retire usually have the time to volunteer, but even that is changing.  More people who have opted for a “life of leisure” are currently helping their children with babysitting, have taken on consulting jobs, are traveling, live part of the year in another area or take up hobbies and pursue interests that take up huge hunks of their time.  Where does this leave organizations that depend on volunteers to shoulder some of the workload they cannot afford to hire workers to perform?  For some it means difficult choices.


Jane Donegan working in the archives.

Mergers, restructuring, or disbanding are possibilities for groups who have lost volunteers due to attrition.  The archives at the Geneva Historical Society has lots of information on once thriving organizations that are no longer in existence due to waning membership or volunteers.   The Salvation Army has a shortage of bell ringers and sometimes has to hire people to man the buckets.  One charity that called me resorted to professional fundraisers and told me so. I have belonged to two organizations that have had to alter their mission because they could no longer find willing people to be officers.  I know of churches that cannot fill their committees or governing boards because parishioners no longer are able or willing to step up to do the work.  Sometimes it is even hard to get people to bake cookies for receptions.

I am aware that family structures have changed and that there are more extracurricular activities for children than ever before.  In an age where a family sitting down to eat dinner together is no longer a given how can we expect parents to find the time to volunteer for organizations?

Deb Lind-Schmitz as Jenny Lind at Rose Hill’s Victorian Day.

Where does this leave the groups that depend on volunteers?  Not in a good place.   Current volunteers will probably continue working until they “age out” but what happens then?  One thing that does give me hope is a trend I see in young single people, many just out of college, who are starting to fill the ranks.  I wish those numbers were such that I felt assured of the future; still they give me a lot of hope.  Hope that a new generation will find some way to participate in their communities and to “give back.” I also hope that we, as parents and mentors, convince the up and coming generation that if they want their community to be vibrant, healthy and filled with opportunity they can make it happen by taking an active part in local government, social organizations, educational organizations, community welfare, recreational organizations and/or public service organizations.  We can only get out of our city what we are willing to put in to our city.

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