Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Power of Volunteers

The Volunteer Center's executive Director, Janet Sharma, was recently honored by the Urban League Guild for Bergen County. Following are her remarks presented at the awards luncheon:

Thank you very much for this award. I am truly honored. I have
always appreciated the Urban League and its commitment to community, and I deeply value your good work – across the country and here in Englewood.

I’ve got to tell you that I have thoroughly enjoyed my tenure as Executive Director of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County and one of the reasons is that I get to work in partnership with the Urban League and with the other organizations that are being honored here today.

My organization focuses on the power of volunteers to make the world a better place. I have always believed that volunteering is a key component of social justice, because volunteering brings people together.

When I was little, I got my first volunteer experience helping my mother distribute
materials for the Cancer Society. Remember those 7 danger signs? Well I lived with those materials so long that I was sure that I had them all. The cough that
wouldn’t stop, sore that wouldn’t heal, the mole that kept getting bigger.

That experience has lived with me all these years and I think it’s important, because a key feature of volunteering is empathy. I really believed that I was dying, and I know how scared I was. That hasn’t left me, nor has the sense of empathy, of sensing
what others are feeling. Not only the pain of the sick or the despair of the homeless, but the gladness in the eyes of a lonely senior when someone brings them a meal or gives them a friendly call, or the pride that someone – a child or an adult – feels when a volunteer helps them grasp the concept of reading; or the thrill when a mentor takes a child to the zoo and they see an elephant up close and personal for the very first time; or the fervor of someone who stands up for the underdog -- or for their own rights -- and extends their passion to others.

These are the kinds of things that make up my day, and every single day brings joy as well as heartache because every day is full of the full range of humanity.

At a recent forum with President George H.W. Bush (#41), President Obama commented on the importance of service, and I want to pass along his words:

"Service isn't separate from our national priorities or secondary to our national priorities - it's integral to achieving our national priorities. It's how we will meet the challenges of our time...

That's always been the story of this nation--the story of those who stepped forward in our darkest hours to serve it. Those who rose to answer the defining questions of their time: Colony or country? Free or half free? Separate but equal, or truly equal?

Those folks weren't in it for the money. Those folks were volunteers. Their
service wasn't "extra." It was the work that changed this country."

Thank you very much for this award. I am honored to be among you today.

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