Should Volunteerism Be Mandatory?

By Joe Little
Public Relations Manager,
New York City Rescue Mission

When I was a child, my family and I would volunteer at our church league. It was cool to play a role in the upkeep of a valuable place --for the inestimable benefit of many. Decades later when my wife and I started our own family, we volunteered at church or little league. It was voluntary service, the key word being voluntary (from the Latin voluntarius, meaning will or eager). If we are great at all, most of our greatness as a family (and nation) has derived from a grateful-to-God willingness – even eagerness – to assist others, a trait which Alexis de Tocqueville noticed as early the 1830s.

But, times change. Nowadays (i.e. USA 2009), I am the public relations manager at the non-profit
New York City Rescue Mission in Lower Manhattan. I see volunteers here all the time; they are the life-blood here at America's first rescue mission. We love them. They could be somewhere else, but they're here feeding the hungry, giving rest to the weary, or encouraging the hopeless, but they are willing and relatively eager. It's a bit harder to generalize about our community service volunteers; theirs is coerced service at best, involuntary service at worst. I don't see eagerness when they're serving here.

I'm not sure how to respond to reports of legislation that would mandate volunteerism. On the one hand, if someone calls us here at the Mission and heeds our common-sense
volunteer guidelines, we are receptive; but sullen students going through the motions in order to get it out of the way? That's a tough nut!

Suffice to say, we're wary with community service volunteers, but I recall that God wants us to open our door to the sad, sick and sullen, and — within reason — that's what we'll do here with potential mandatory volunteers.

FOX Fans: We reported, now you decide! What do you think? Should volunteerism be mandatory? Send us an email to let us know your thoughts!