“Volunteers are not paid; not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.” - Sherry Anderson (Volunteering Quotes: Finest Quotes).
Part I: Volunteerism and Community Service in the United States
Research shows that when Americans are "properly asked to serve", they serve, says the Corporation for National and Community Service, on their website dedicated to U.S. volunteerism(Volunteering and Civic Life in America 2014). The question, then, is what does "properly asked to serve" consist of.
If the government issues a call to all able United States citizens to donate a mere three to five hours a week to a teen-mentoring, child-tutoring, or other volunteer program for the benefit of the country and the good of society, will it happen? Will people, hearing this summons, eagerly and/or obediently sign up at their favorite charity organization for a shift? Will they, with no monetary compensations, social benefits, or employment benefits give of their valuable and potentially dollar-earning time out of the goodness of their hearts and concern for the future well-being of society? Perhaps this isn't what "properly asked to serve" consists of for North Americans.
When people do respond to their summons, researchers say, things happen. The mentoring system is supposedly one of the most beneficial of volunteer activities, in terms of reaching "at risk" kids. The Philadelphia Summit on volunteerism that took place in April of 1997 targeted five basic needs of at-risk kids: a relationship with a caring adult, supervised and safe sites for play, marketable skills, a healthy start, and a sense of service. These five criteria, if met, are expected to lower teen pregnancy rates, high school drop-out rates, and the frequency of a variety of other social menaces to young people. The nice thing about these goals are that they can most often be implemented and staffed by volunteers. The complicated part is that it is not easy volunteer work. As Alten claims, "What Powell and Clinton are talking about is not. . .writing a check to a museum or volunteering to be an usher at the community theater." Serious, productive volunteer work takes time, motivation, and commitment.
Let's pretend, in an ideological fantasy, that we have it, this abundance of committed volunteers who, at the call of Mr. Powell, generously and dutifully become a personal mentor for an at-risk child. To be sure, the lives of many of these children would improve. The drop-out and pregnancy rates might decline a bit, and society might feel the reverberations of a few more promising young lives. But what part of the problem are we "fixing" by this method? Are we digging at the roots of the weeds or merely pruning off the tips? Damming the source of the flood waters or merely plugging holes in the dike? Volunteer work, for all its mutual benefits and noble qualities, cannot put back together broken families. It cannot heal the wounds and scars of violence and abuse. It...