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August 25, 2011

MARK BENNETT: It’s time for us to rekindle our volunteer spirit

Hoosiers exhibit generosity.

Terre Hauteans, in particular, displayed that virtue after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the local flooding in 2008. They donated blood, money, food, clothes and — most significantly — their own sweat and time.

In between calamities, most of us can use a reminder that our volunteer time is still needed in the community. It’s human nature to forget that reality. The lines to buy lottery tickets are typically busier than the waiting room at the blood center or the check-in point at a Habitat for Humanity project. Last year, 28.4 percent of Indiana residents worked as a volunteer for a nonprofit or local organization, averaging 36.9 hours per person, an impressive display of giving. By contrast, in 2009, 59 percent of Hoosiers played the Hoosier Lottery, spending $732 million.

(Granted, playing the lottery is another method of public donation, but usually that’s not one’s primary motivation.)

No judgment intended, just a mental nudge.

For those of us who’ve been meaning to dust off our work gloves and boots, an ideal opportunity awaits. A communitywide “Day of Service,” organized through Terre Haute Ministries, features a variety of activities on Saturday, Sept. 10. Not coincidentally, the following day marks the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa. Among other reactions, that tragedy sparked a sustained wave of volunteerism in America, and that trend hit a peak in 2006.

That level of spirit could return, if efforts in Terre Haute and the rest of the nation succeed.

Several groups, including the Hands On Network and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum aim to make the 10th-anniversary weekend the largest outpouring of charitable service in U.S. history, fulfilling President Obama’s 2009 declaration of Sept. 11 as a national day of service and remembrance.

The largest ever.

That will take some doing. Remember, all those expressions of selflessness, good deeds and neighborly attitudes a decade ago?

Those examples can serve as an inspiration now.

“It should be very honoring, very community building,” said the Rev. Honnalora Hubbard, director of Terre Haute Ministries.

Hubbard also is the mother of a 20-year-old U.S. Navy sailor stationed in Afghanistan. Her son, Anthony, was a 10-year-old elementary school student on 9/11. As young as he was, that difficult moment for America left an impression on him. “I remember him being very interested in what was happening,” she recalled. “When he joined the military, there was still that impact on his life.”

The willingness to volunteer by young people emerged not only through enlistment in the Armed Services, but also in other aspects of community involvement. Volunteerism among teenagers has remained higher during the past decade than it was in 1989, according to a report by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service. That generation — too often maligned as aloof and narcissistic tech-zombies — actually sets an example for older Americans, who were less inclined to volunteer when they were teens.

Folks born near the end of the 20th century have been “quick to rise up to the challenge,” Hubbard said.

“We do have a generation of people who are very committed to serving others,” she added.

Other age groups have pitched in admirably, too. In fact, those Corporation for National and Community Service statistics show that people are most likely to volunteer their time in their mid-30s to early 40s. Even though people tend to back off from donating their labor after that, many stick with it. In Indiana, 31.7 percent of Baby Boomers still volunteer, as do 26.6 percent of people older than 65.

The Day of Service presents the chance to jump back in. One way is to donate items for 9/11 care packages, which will be assembled by Terre Haute Ministries volunteers and shipped to U.S. service men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq. The most requested items needed include single-serving, nonperishable snacks; pre-sweetened drink mixes; toothbrushes; liquid body wash; olive green undershirts; black bootcut socks; AA and AAA batteries; and, yes, letters of support. The items are now being accepted at the Salvation Army, 234 S. Eighth St., and can be dropped off between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or by calling (812) 232-4081 for other arrangements. Donations or contributions by businesses toward the project can be arranged by calling the ministries at (812) 234-7100, ext. 215.

Also, volunteers will be building 18 residential wheelchair ramps. In addition, a blood drive is also planned at the Salvation Army on the Day of Service, as well as a communitywide Day of Remembrance ceremony at Fairbanks Park on Sunday, Sept. 11.

The national observance calls for Americans to perform a good deed or charitable gesture “to honor the 9/11 victims, survivors and those who rose in service in response to the attacks.” Volunteering, in other words.

“The best way to honor their memory is by doing what they would do,” Hubbard said, “and that’s serving.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or

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