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The Front-Line Rapid Action Force


Published: 06/20/2012


Words crackle from the intercom in the foyer, "Who's there?" "Keith from Meals on Wheels." The door catch clicks to the words, "Come on up."

Maria's telephone rings. It is exactly 10 in the morning. As she puts the receiver to her ear she says, "Good morning Alice..." It happens every day at 10. It means a lot when you're alone to have someone call to see how you are doing.

The youth group leader hurries to get into uniform and to the church hall before the 30 youngsters explode into the room.

At 7:30 in the evening, exactly 12 hours since he checked his e-mail at the office, he places a manila file marked "Group Home" on the table, and says, as he passes out an agenda, "We have a lot of items to cover tonight."

"Who can be knocking at this hour?" he wondered as he pulled the front door open. "Well, come in, neighbour. Trudy! Don't tell me it's time to donate to the Cancer Society again."

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. You find them in hospitals, schools, churches, clubs, community groups, cultural societies and serving in far corners of the world. They raise money, run organizations and provide hands-on, person-to-person help to so many. You'd need to do a lot of creative guessing to figure out how much time is given, how many people are helped or how much money is raised by volunteers day after day.

This year is the Year of the Volunteer, 12 months when we are urged to recognize the contribution of volunteers to our communities.

Volunteers certainly deserve to be recognized for the work they do day after day, serving others, financing medical research, supporting cultural groups, leading teams... well the list is almost endless.

But more to the point, volunteers and their organizations are our "Front Line Rapid Action Force." The volunteers, reporting from the front lines, are the ones who first identify the fault lines in our society. Invariably they see the needs long before they hit the radar screens of the news media or the politicians. By the time others catch up, volunteers are already working on the problems and involved in helping those who fall between the cracks. Long before homeless people made the news volunteers were distributing warm clothes, sleeping bags and hot soup.

Volunteers, and their organizations, are flexible and innovative. When floods, fires and storms dislodge and disrupt people's lives, volunteers come together to help. When the job is done they easily move on to other things. When problems arise and no one is organized to deal with them, it is amazing how soon volunteers appear to dig in to help and how quickly a new agency, committee or society is created to make sure the work goes on.

And so it is, without a lot of fuss and bother, without a lot of rules, protocols or complex procedures, that people are fed, clothed and rescued. Using their energy, insights, experience and compassion, volunteers get amazing things done. No wonder volunteers have a special place in our communities.

They are special because people know they do not have to do what they do. They have credibility because they give practical, down-to-earth help when and where it is needed--whether it is medicine, blankets, clean water or comfort for the distressed. It is rapid, front-line, person-to-person, hands-on help.

Volunteers and their organizations often experiment, take risks and test solutions that point the way for community and government programs. Volunteers are the innovators and the pathfinders in our society.

Of course, a lot of the help volunteers give is there for the long haul. A lot of it is imbued with a very special quality. In support groups, in 12-step programs, help comes from men and women who can say, "I know. I've been there, done that. I've also struggled through the darkness." They know how to help in times of grief, of temptation, of loss. They know the power of kind words, of a helping hand given and the right moment when a little advice can be of benefit.

Volunteers are people who give themselves fully to life's adventures. They live in the front line; they are our Rapid Reaction Force. It is not an exclusive club. Anyone can join. Everyone is welcome. Everyone can help. 

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