By Angie Desrochers
This is the last day of my second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA and with it brings much reflection on community service and social change. Earlier today I was thinking about the amazing work that the VISTAs are doing around the state and I suddenly felt optimistic. I realized that there really are some very dedicated, passionate people in the world that are committed to making a change. I began to feel hopeful and for a minute let myself believe that there might come a time when we have no longer need AmeriCorps programs because we have been successful at eliminating poverty and creating sustainable communities. I am not so Polyanna-ish to think that that day will come to fruition in the near future, but for a moment I was able to envision it. For just a brief moment I stopped to conjure up visions of people being adequately housed and well fed; people properly educated so that they could fulfill their dreams. In this moment I deeply understood that volunteers do make a difference! Yes, in fact, I was quickly reminded me of some data I had seen indicating that in 2008 the United States had seen a substantial growth in the number and diversity of people volunteering!
Yet, I am admittedly a pessimist (or at least a realist) and quickly I was drawn back from my imaginary world of social equality by thoughts of sustainability. I know from experience that AmeriCorps VISTA projects focus on sustainability and capacity building, but how, as Americans, can we ensure that this growth continues? I immediately plunge into a deluge of negative thinking…obviously, we are all busy people. Most of us are hesitant to add an additional task to our already overburdened schedules and surely we cannot all stop our lives and selflessly devote an entire year to community service. Again I asked myself, “How can we sustain the growth in volunteerism and therefore improved families and communities?” Eureka! I have the answer!
The answer can be found in a slightly revised and expanded definition of volunteerism. It is rooted in traditional values and inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. This definition proposes that volunteerism include such acts as smiling at a homeless person to show that we still have respect for them as a human being or shoveling an elderly neighbor’s drive way to ensure their safety. I believe that when we all incorporate this definition of volunteerism into our lives and commit to making these small changes we will surely begin to see real and sustainable changes in our communities. I believe it is important to take the time to understand how people become impoverished and disenfranchised and to stand in solidarity with them. It is from this level of acceptance that we will find the remedy to for our ailing world.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
—Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Instinct, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on 4 February 1968
Angie Desrochers is an AmeriCorps Alumni and a guest blogger.