This weekly column is devoted to recognizing LIONS — “Leaders in our Neighborhood.” These are individuals that do not make headlines, receive very little recognition, but are quietly going above and beyond in their particular field or venture.
For 2020, there is going to be a particular emphasis that will be in every week’s column — volunteerism. If there is one thing that almost everyone can agree on, it is that volunteers are a dying breed. I belong or actively engage with ten volunteer community organizations, and each one of them is desperate for more help. The reality that is now upon us, especially in our region, is that without new volunteers stepping up, we will face very serious infrastructure and social problems in the very near future.
The clearest example of this is with volunteer fire companies. In 1975 there were over 300,000 volunteer firemen in Pennsylvania, and today there are approximately 35,000. What happens if it becomes necessary to have all paid firefighters? A Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute study estimated that the value of volunteer firefighters to the Commonwealth could be as high as $10 billion a year. With the continuing loss of volunteers, “taxpayers will face a very steep price tag,” the report warns. Pennsylvania State Rep. Steve Barrar, co-chair of the legislature’s emergency preparedness committee has been quoted, “I truly believe that if we lose our volunteer system, it will mean higher property taxes to every community in the state of Pennsylvania.”
Multiply that same problem across the board. What about organizations that support our youth, such as Big Brother/Big Sisters, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, Little League, etc.? What about those that provide extremely valuable supplemental help to our social services such as DWELL, which supports foster and adoptive families in Lycoming County? Or THRIVE, an organization that equips people from diverse cultures with language and culture skills and provides opportunities to integrate in and serve the community?
There are hundreds of groups and organizations in our region that need volunteers. This is not just anecdotal, for this critical need has been researched and documented. When the Planning Department of the county spent years of research seeking to identify the most critical issues facing the county in the next decade in updating the Lycoming County Comprehensive Plan, volunteerism was one of the areas identified. The report heading for that section issued the warning, “Volunteerism and civic engagement, particularly among young people, are insufficient to sustain community institutions and services.”
So, Webb Weekly is going to do its part to make 2020 the Year of the Volunteer. In the last century the decade was known as the “Roaring 20s.” It was a self-indulgent, self-centered time that ultimately resulted in the Great Depression. It is the hope and dream of this newspaper to make our new decade the “Soaring 20s.” Lycoming County has some incredible people, and in the coming months, we are going to feature these key volunteers and their organizations that are in each and every community in our region. It is our hope that these will not simply be informational, but inspirational. We hope that it will cause our residents to step up and step in.
We need to remind ourselves of the words of President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Substitute “county” for “country” and it captures the spirit of what we hope to accomplish.
If you are interested in being interviewed or know someone who should be interviewed for our “Year of the Volunteer,” simply email me at the address at the end of this column. And, the same goes if you have time and your talents you wish to contribute to others. We will do our very best to hook you up with organizations in your area that could use your help.
Ready or not — here it comes — The Year of the Volunteer!
Larry Stout welcomes your comments or input. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.