Growing up, Jodi Webb and her family volunteered for a number of groups in their small Pennsylvania mining town. Now Webb embraces the responsibilities of volunteerism as a way improve her own life, give back to her community and strengthen our democracy.
My mom has always been involved, whether it was the church, the school, the team, or the community. And where my mom volunteered, other family members often followed. I remember her comment whenever I protested about a volunteer activity she recruited me for. “It’s for the church” or “It’s for the school.”
When we were growing up my mom focused most of her energy, and the family’s, on those organizations because they relied on volunteers to survive. My brother ran the sound equipment for the school’s annual Christmas play, my dad made bean soup for the church’s summer festival, I spent a few sweltering days reorganizing the elementary school library at the end of each school year. How could anyone dare to refuse? Each demand was accompanied by that unspoken question, “If you don’t do it, who will?”
For my mother, volunteering was as natural as breathing or cleaning out the closets each spring. If it needed to be done and you were capable of doing it, you did it. I like to think of our volunteering as a family trait, like blue eyes or bossiness (both of which run in the family). My grandmother, my mother, and I were all raised in the same small town populated mostly by coal miners. The residents didn’t have much money, but they always had a willingness to help. When my grandparents were young, the town didn’t have a church, so the miners, after spending twelve hours a day underground, built one. It’s just our nature in this town.
Now as an adult and mother of three children, I have raised my hand at more meetings than I care to count, because that unspoken truth was echoing inside me. As a Girl Scout leader, I spent my Thursday evenings with sixteen energetic Brownies. As a lunchtime recruiter, I begged dozens of parents to become cafeteria helpers. I baked dozens of cookies to raise money for the school gardening club. If I didn’t do it, who would?
That little question has also encouraged me to take action in other aspects of my life when I would have preferred to just stay in bed. If I don’t slosh through the rain puddles to vote out an ineffective politician, who will? If I don’t protect my health by cutting fat, adding calcium, and exercising, who will? If I don’t turn off TV programs that are inappropriate for my children, who will?
Sometimes the responsibility that comes with that question seems overwhelming. Responsibility for yourself, your family, your community, your government, your environment. How freeing it would be to turn the obligations of life over to that anonymous group we all love to rely on: “them.” Let “them” worry about endangered whales. Let “them” pick up roadside trash. Let “them” serve on the school board. Let “them” collect tickets at a fund-raiser. But that isn’t what my mother taught me. I could do it. I believe I should do it.
After all, if I don’t, who will?
Jodi Webb is a writer from Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Her three children enjoy the quirk that makes her bake cookies when she has writer’s block. Ms. Webb’s latest volunteer project is agreeing to take charge of the Box Tops for Education/Labels for Education program at her son’s elementary school.
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