Volunteering motives twisted

Volunteering+motives+twisted

Susan Arnold

Make a Difference Day is a national and annual event that was created in 1990 by USA Weekend to celebrate neighbors helping neighbors. According to the NMU Make a Difference Day webpage, “it is one of the largest annual single-days of service nationwide,” and “thousands of volunteers across the country unite on the fourth Saturday in October with a common mission: to improve the lives of others through a wide range of community-driven service projects.”

In Marquette County, the initiative put forth by Northern has brought in over 1,000 volunteers to assist in yard cleanup for elderly people. Sponsored by many local businesses and companies, the event involves student groups who rake yards throughout the course of the day.

Though the idea of Make a Difference Day is heartwarming, it has slowly morphed into a day fueled by greed, rather than the yearning to help others. The day starts early, with breakfast served at 8 a.m., although I have heard of student organizations lining up along the halls of the University Center as early as 5:30 a.m. Though waking up at dawn seems like a pretty selfless act, there is a bribery that takes place to persuade those willing to come. Breakfast by Simply Superior Catering, a free T-shirt, the old ladies baking cookies or hanging out with your friends come to mind. Often, when I look for volunteers from my student organization, those are the tactics I use. This year, one gentlemen gave us all Halloween candy, and one of my friend’s organizations received doughnuts from both houses that they raked.

Out of all the photographs I’ve ever seen from Make a Difference Day, I have never seen a photo of the volunteers with the person they were helping. The pictures are usually of the group, joking around with each other; mostly taken by the elder that they were volunteering for. Asking someone to take a photo of your group, without including them in it, is a form of dismissal. I decided to change that this year, by
having my student organization take photos with each of the men we helped. They will be receiving those photos as a reminder that we didn’t forget about them when we left their yard.

I believe that we are all born good and full of compassion, but at some point as we grow, we lose those qualities. Why do we have to be bribed to help our neighbors, rather than help for the sake of helping?

The appeal of a nice breakfast and a T-shirt is a good way to get volunteers, but I believe that, as a community, we should push the idea of helping others for the sake of helping, rather than for one’s own benefit. A few ways we can do that is by having multiple community-wide volunteer days throughout the year. On these days there would be no bribery; only the appreciation for those going out of their way to help their neighbor. By respecting the value of kindness, we can promote the change that Marquette County deserves.