Is Volunteering a Civic Responsibility?

October 16th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Should Americans be legally required to get involved in public service?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

The stumbling blocks that keep us from volunteering and perhaps making a difference in someone’s life are many. 

We’re truly busy, and mentoring a kid, teaching an adult to read, or lifting someone’s spirits at a nursing home takes time. 

We don’t know how to use a hammer. 

We’re not experts. 

It’s not our responsibility. 

Now, after years of quietly gathering speed, there’s a growing movement to elevate public service to national service and in the process, set up incentives and opportunities that make it easier for each person to help another in need. The goal is to make volunteering as fundamental as voting. 

 The concept of relying on all able citizens to give back has even garnered the support of both John McCain and Barack Obama. Each has promised, if elected president, to make national service a priority and to promote it as a unifying force for 21st century America. 

The frustration expressed by many Americans—wanting to volunteer for something, but not knowing where to start—is now beginning to be addressed more widely, from corporations offering paid leave for employee volunteer service, to universities integrating a “service” year into students’ studies. 

Even the federal government is trying to make it easier for Americans to roll up their sleeves and volunteer, with a proposed piece of federal legislation called the Serve America Act. Among other things, the Act proposes to establish five new national volunteer “corps” such as international service, disaster relief, green energy, education, and poverty, then train and link volunteers to the projects that suit them best. 

One of the toughest obstacles to volunteering is finding the time, but it may be as easy as turning off the TV. Experts note that the biggest statistical distinction between volunteers and non-volunteers, is how much television they watch—15 hours a week for volunteers; 23 hours for non-volunteers. That mathematical difference—more than 400 hours a year—could make a world of difference from a volunteer. 

Tell us what you think: Is volunteering a civic responsibility? Should government be involved in public service?