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Tis the Season to Salute Volunteers

Lori Halley 24 December 2009 1 comments

Right about now, many of us are snugged up in our homes for the holidays with family and friends, maybe indulging in some sentimental old Christmas movies along with the eggnog. It's a Wonderful Life. A Christmas Carol. Miracle on 34th Street. Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn and White Christmas. Sure, even The Grinch...

One of my guilty pleasures is a thirty-year-old schmaltzy gem called A Christmas Without Snow. In it, the female lead, Michael Learned, tries to resurrect her acting career after "Little House on the Prairie" while her film character tries to build a new life in San Francisco. The best of the movie is the late John Houseman as a dictatorial choir director, tasked with teaching an inner-city church choir of varying talent to do justice to Handel's Messiah.

Take a minute now, if you will, to pop over to the Facebook Fan Page for Movies for the Blind, a podcast of public-domain movies with audio description for the visually impaired — a pro bono project that Toronto voiceover artist Valerie Hunter has been doing since 2007. On the MFTB Facebook Page you'll find, among other samples, a very short audio clip called "Amateurs." In it, Houseman's character gives the choir an unexpected pep talk, after their well-meaning efforts have been harshly criticized.

Give it a listen... and just substitute the word "volunteers" for "amateurs."

These are Houseman's lines:

Mrs. Burns is right, of course; you are amateurs, unlike certain pseudo-professionals like myself who insist on slave wages. Your voluntary and steadfast attendance at these rehearsals fully qualifies you for any definition of the word “amateur”.

What Mrs. Burns and many others are wrong about is the meaning of the word, which has to do with motivation, not quality. Remember “amo, amat, amas,” the Latin verb “to love.” The meaning of “amateur” is “he or she who does a thing for the love of it.” There is no higher reason for singing than the love of doing it.

In that respect, you do qualify as amateurs.
And I salute you for it.

The ragtag band of untrained singers pulls together, of course, and because this is a Christmas movie everything turns out more or less for the best, love conquers all, and the choir pulls off a triumphant performance of the famous Hallelujah Chorus (catch it in Episode 109 of MFTB's podcast) as the credits roll. Fade to black. End of story.

Right now the media is full of feel-good stories.

Families are flocking to help out at soup kitchens and toy drives, attending at candlelight services for the homeless, visiting senior care homes to sing Christmas carols to shut-ins. Even the least altruistic will feel moved drop their loose change in the Salvation Army kettle, this time of year. And that's good. That is very good. We know all too well that many nonprofits simply couldn't function without this seasonal rush of extra help. Even now, on Christmas Eve day, the Twitter stream is filled with nonprofit pleas for more help, and public thanks for volunteers who put aside their own holiday preparations to answer a last-minute call.

Meghan Leonardi, a senior at Fremont High School in Plain City, Utah, urges us to make every day Christmas:

Around the holidays people tend to focus on what is truly important: love and caring for one another. But as the year progresses, people get so caught up in their own lives and daily routines that it can be difficult to see that there is so much more to this life than working, eating and sleeping.

There's a lot of truth to that. When post-holiday life resumes its usual hectic pace, it's inevitable that a certain amount of that volunteering gets squeezed out of people's busy schedules. There's no judgment to be made; it's simply a fact of real life, the on-going challenge to balance work and family and societal responsibilities in an increasingly stressful and complex world.

Fortunately, there's a very special breed of volunteers out there, who are true "amateurs" in the cause of change. Our regular, reliable, long-standing, in-it-for-the-long-haul volunteers are the bedrock of the nonprofit sector especially at the community level. When the holiday season is over and the cameras turn away, they're still in there with sleeves rolled up, doing what needs to be done, all year round. And their "voluntary and steadfast attendance" is certainly worth a special salute.

In the words of Cindy Hackmann (A Year-Round Gift: Recognizing Volunteers):

Although the giving spirit emerges faithfully each year around the holidays, there are a group of people who give year-round that often go unnoticed – volunteer leaders....

No, there’s not much glory in serving as a volunteer leader. But that’s what makes them all so special. They know that there’s no fame or fortune in sitting on a board before they make the commitment, and they give of themselves anyway. What a gift.


Wishing you all the very best of the season,
and an abundance of volunteers for your nonprofit all through the New Year.


Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 24 December 2009 at 3:23 PM


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