Editorial: Volunteers Are Vital to Southwestern Pennsylvania
The expression often used is “it takes a village to raise a child”.
In updated parlance, it’s not so much a village as a volunteer – or many volunteers.
It is difficult to calculate all that is done in our lives by someone who does not receive a salary for doing the work. It’s hard to imagine what we could do without if all the volunteers disappeared overnight.
Volunteers fight fires. They drive ambulances. They redirect traffic to accident scenes. They help ensure that the complex machinery of biannual elections runs with surprisingly few glitches. They coach soccer and baseball players, lead plays and choirs, raise funds and clean the roads.
And often it is some of our oldest neighbors – those who might rely on volunteer services rather than providing them.
Take Meals on Wheels. For decades, various service agencies across the country and the world have offered the service that delivers a daily meal to homebound seniors or those with disabilities. It’s more than a TV dinner.
Although it seems like a disposable tray of meatloaf and mashed potatoes would suffice on its own, the service provides more, albeit inadvertently. For those who live alone, the daily delivery may be the only time a recipient talks all day. The person who realizes something is wrong might be the one who shows up with lunch to find a medical emergency.
But the lack of volunteers creates problems. In Freeport, Ruth Donnelly, 92, and Betty Smith, 89, have been cooking dinners for about 50 years. They want to keep helping people. But across the region, fewer people are still available to do the work, which means some programs are closing. The Kinloch program in Lower Burrell and Highlands in Harrison both closed this year.
It’s bad enough. The problem looming on the horizon, however, is that Pennsylvania’s population is aging — and not all of those old people are as sprightly as Donnelly and Smith. Many people are waiting for the chicken and rice of the day.
As with firefighters, ambulance services, and other organizations that rely on unpaid participation, nonprofit organizations that run Meals on Wheels, such as the Westmoreland County Agency on Aging, need of volunteers. They need the ones like Donnelly and Smith who will dedicate half their lives to helping, and they need the more casual ones who are just looking for a way to give back. Really, they need someone who can lend a hand in any way they can.
It’s important, because you need a village not just to raise a child. You also need a village to get the adults through the day. It’s scary to think of what happens to the village when people stop volunteering to be part of it.