America's volunteers: 'The joy is doing it without recognition'
FOR those who despair of headlines about unemployment, drug abuse, and crises in the Middle East and Central America, consider the volunteers. At least 1 out of 2 American adults, in an individual or group way, volunteers a good part of his or her time to cope with crises and unmet needs both at home and abroad.Skip to next paragraph
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These citizen volunteers are proving that the individual counts. And their numbers appear to be growing.
The week of May 6-12 was National Volunteers' Week, and May 7 was volunteers' day at the White House.
At a White House luncheon, President Reagan presented 19 presidential volunteer action awards for 1984. The recipients were a labor union, two corporations, and 16 individuals, groups, and national organizations. All of them, in Reagan's view, embody an American frontier spirit of self-reliance and private initiative.
Some of the award winners have worked as unsung heroes or heroines for many years. Robert Macauley, a New Canaan, Conn., businessman who established the Americares Foundation in 1979 to provide relief supplies abroad, got started during the Vietnam war. In 1968, Mr. Macauley set up a fund for orphans in Saigon known as the Shoeshine Boys' Foundation.
The tall Mr. Macauley, who feels uneasy about publicity, did not linger at the White House after the awardsluncheon. Of volunteer work, he says, ''the joy is in doing it without the recognition.''
Macauley insisted that the presidential award not be given to him but to his organization, thus honoring the many volunteers who have contributed to its work. In an interview, Macauley said in the many replies he has received to his appeals for help, he detects a ''groundswell'' of interest in voluntarism.
Thanks to its unpaid volunteers, Americares operates with an overhead of only 0.5 percent. Contributed space, telephones, and supplies help to keep costs down.
Americares has shipped clothing and medical supplies to Poland, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and El Salvador. Last Christmas, the organization sent 5 million chocolate-covered nutrition bars and some 2 million disposable diapers to Poland.
Many of the volunteers who received awards or citations derive strength, as Bob Macauley does, from a deep religious commitment.
Some of those who received awards came to voluntarism only after facing difficult challenges:
* Bill and Pat Barton helped to form a Naples, Fla., parents association after they discovered that the young people who were taking drugs in their community included their own children. The association's purpose was to educate the community and create an environment that would encourage drug-free activities. The umbrella organization the Bartons helped to establish, the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, now involves more than 4,000 parent groups.
* Glenn Williams of Seattle stepped out of Alcatraz 23 years ago after serving nearly 11 years for a bank robbery. He began volunteering with an organization that helps to rehabilitate released felons. In 1971, Mr. Williams organized the nonprofit Attica Inc., purchased a bus, and over the next nine years drove thousands of women and children to visit family members in penal institutions. In 1981, Williams founded Teen Intercept, which teaches youth about the dangers of drug use.
* While serving with the US Army's First Infantry Division in Vietnam 16 years ago, Tom Rader was severely wounded in a mortar attack. Retired from the Army on permanent disability, Mr. Rader did not let artificial limbs slow him down. As a Merced County volunteer probation officer, he supervises and counsels as many as 20 adult and juvenile probationers at a time. Three years ago, Rader developed a program whereby juvenile offenders may be assigned work instead of paying fines or receiving sentences.