hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Friday, February 19, 2016

Volunteering and Being a Citizen instead of Just a Taxpayer

This will be a bit of a harangue, but I think all of us here need to think about this a little.

We live in a tiny community: there are around 1,300 permanent residents, and maybe another 3,000 part-time residents.  But even though we are small, we still have needs that no individual can reasonably supply.  We need roads and water and a cemetery and a health clinic and a fire department and a community center.  And we have those things because people volunteer to run for office to take care of those needs and the 'taking care of' is financed a bit from property taxes.  But those volunteers get paid little or nothing for doing that work for all of us.  And they do it because they feel some commitment to public service or because they like to run things or whatever.  And good on them for taking on these largely thankless tasks.

But there are lots of other needs that we have that are not taken care of by any kind of governmental function because we are too small to have that kind of government.  The costs of library services, e.g., are paid for via property taxes, but not the cost of a building to put the library in, and that's why volunteers have been raising money for a new library for the past 4+ years.  The high school graduates of this community might need some help in getting to go to college, but there is no government agency to help or to even recognize their desire to get some higher education.  But the volunteers at Dollars for Scholars do raise money for them.

Many elderly and disabled people live here, often alone, but there are no government services to help them on an ongoing basis.  This past year, one of our neighbors was dying of terminal cancer.  She wanted to stay at home and Whatcom County's hospice program did provide her with some services, and friends stayed with her during the day when she could barely make it out of bed.  But she was alone at night, the hardest time, the scariest time, until one of us thought to get in touch with Circle of Care, a volunteer group here who were able to provide our neighbor with someone to stay with her through the night for the last two weeks of her life.  That's kind of an extreme case, but there are also people who need help getting to the Clinic or to the grocery store, and Hospice isn't going to be of much help to them.  But volunteers can be.

This weekend, the Friends of the Library is holding a 2-day used book sale at the Community Center (Saturday, 10-3, Sunday, 11-3).  The volunteers are doing this not, as it happens, to raise money for the new library (although they've done plenty of that), but to provide services and programs that the County Library System can't provide because its funding is limited and has to be apportioned to a lot of towns.  Those additional services that volunteers provide by selling books include summer puppet shows, library magazine subscriptions for kids and teens, prizes for reading contests, etc.

I don't personally have to figure out how to help my neighbors who are struggling with the increasing cost of food, here in the richest country in the world, because the volunteers at the Food Bank do that for us.  And if we have a big disaster of some sort here, we have a volunteer group, PREP, who has done lots of planning that will give at least some of us a fighting chance to survive a disaster.  And there's PAWS that helps our pets when they run into trouble; and The P.R. Historical Society, which keeps track of our past, which many of us will soon be a part of.  And the Point Roberts TV group.  Something for everyone.

What these bands of volunteers need most are people to join with them in recognizing that we all need to help meet these otherwise unmet needs, which could be our own need or that of someone we know or of a neighbor that we don't know but who is just as human and deserving as we are.  Some groups just need donations (easy enough to write a check, large or small depending upon your own resources), but most of them also need volunteer time to help them raise money or to provide the assistance they are offering.

When the library has a used book sale, the books don't march over from the Julius Firehall (where they're stored) on their own.  Volunteers, today in the rain, moved them over, a box or a wheeled shelf at a time.  Pretty much the same few volunteers, all year long, rain or shine.

We need more volunteers to make this community the place we really want to live in.  It used to be (this is the kind of thing that octogenarians get to say) that we pretty much thought of ourselves as citizens of our community.  Nowadays, we seem just to think of ourselves as taxpayers, and as long as we pay our taxes, nobody can reasonably ask anything more of us.  But I'd like to suggest that you are still citizens of your community.  This isn't a hotel where the amenities are provided by the management.  There isn't any management: there's just us--the community of Point Roberts, the place where we all chose to live.

You want to contact any of these groups about volunteering?  Write me (judyross@outlook.com) and I'll tell you whom to contact.

N.B.  My apologies to any groups that I didn't list; these were just the ones that came first to my mind when I was writing.

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