'I don't even remember starting volunteering," laughs Elaine Dahlgren. "I just always volunteered."
Mrs. Dahlgren's history typifies a generation of Americans: Her parents set an example which continued throughout her life. She now runs the retired and senior volunteer programs in Anchorage for the Volunteers of America. The program will celebrate its 25th anniversary in Washington in July. The volunteers' duties range from providing food to rescuing victims of domestic violence. "I see my volunteers do things that paid staff would never do," Dahlgren says. "If someone calls and needs a ride to shelter because she's been beaten up by a spouse, I need to send someone to get this person. It's dark in Alaska in winter," she adds, "Yet I have senior volunteers who are willing to do this," Dahlgren says.
When she was growing up in Okhoma, a small town in South Dakota, she recalls a nonstop process of pitching in to help her community. "I and family and others were the people who cleaned the cemetery and helped neighbors like the little old lady snowed in who needed to be shoveled out," she recalls. "I've never ever stopped volunteering."
What accounts for her commitment?
"It's a family value that people instill in their children. I work hard to instill it in my three teenagers. They now all volunteer on their own, and I still drag them with me to projects."
She finds the state of volunteering today "incredibly healthy," because it is more professional and better organized. "People are not allowed to waste your time the way they were years ago," she says. "Lots of people can write a check, but when you ask for time - that's a nonrenewable resource."