Saturday, December 19, 2009

I didn't think of myself as a joiner until recently...

I'm a babyboomer in my mid 50's and in the last decade I've noticed that alot of my peers don't really belong to anything. I'm not sure if it's just that I'm noticing it more and it had been happening all along or whether it's a more recent phenomenom. Or maybe nobody talks about belonging to organizations anymore like they used to.

When I was growing up, my family attended church every Sunday. My mother belonged to several community organizations like a garden club, a hospital auxillary and even a woman's group at the church. She was always going to meetings and participating in fundraising events. She even instilled it in me. I sang in the church choir, the school chorus, played in the school band and orchestra. I volunteered at the local hospital after school a couple afternoons a week and several days a week during the summer. I don't recall my father doing as much as my mother but he was working two or three jobs when I was growing up so I didn't see him as much.

But after my dad retired, he founded along with some other like minded county residents, a non-profit organization, called Hands Across Middlesex, that helps the needy in their county in Virginia. It's now in it's 18th year and I'm very proud of him and his organization. Many families have new homes, new wells, or new septic systems. Many individuals and families have had all manor of home repairs everything from a handicap ramp to a new roof. Most of the labor is volunteer and most of the supplies are donated. It's really, in my opinion, the perfect example of community teamwork, and helping out your fellow man.

I'm sure there are examples of it today but I don't see or hear of it like I used to when I was young. Oh yeah, you see it on TV with the Extreme Makeover Home Edition. I have heard of some schools requiring it for high school graduation and that is good. Perhaps all schools should require it at each level - elementary, intermediate and high school so it becomes more ingrained. What concerns me is that parents (my age and younger of course) aren't requiring more of it from themselves or their children.

I started writing this blog entry about volunteering but it's also about being a member of an organization and lending a hand when it's needed, about belonging. Any number of non-profits like musuems, symphonies and even food banks and homeless shelters count on members/donors/volunteers to help them stretch their budgets, raise needed funds for community programs, and provide the services that they were founded to meet.

Since I belong to alot of these organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, WUMB Folk Radio and the Greater Boston Food Bank, I donate as much of my time and my money as I am able. What I've noticed is there are mostly people older than I am that are the members or volunteers. Where is everyone else?

My generation, the Babyboomers, are allegedly the largest blip in population growth and yet I haven't noticed the same blip in volunteerism, donorship or membership in the organizations that I belong to. Non-profit organiztions will probably agree that the supposed windfall has not materialized as has been forecasted by many experts.

So how do we make this enormous volunteer/membership movement materialize? Do we use guilt which usually works when our parents apply it. Do we use shame which usually works when our respected political or religious leaders apply it. How do we inspire the Babyboomers to become joiners? Why aren't they following in the footsteps of their parents? What is missing from this picture?

In future blog posts I'm going to explore this and see if I can't shed some light based upon my observations and conversations with some babyboomers and perhaps even their parents. Stay tuned...