April 17, 2020
Next week is National Volunteer Week. The idea of officially recognizing volunteers, according to several sources, can be traced to Canada in 1943 to celebrate the World War II home front efforts, primarily of women. President Richard Nixon officially recognized National Volunteer Week in the United States on April 20, 1974, with Presidential Proclamation 4288.
In that Proclamation, President Nixon cited the spirit of volunteerism as an American hallmark. He urged “all Americans to observe that week by seeking out an area in their community in which they can give to a needy individual or a worthy cause by devoting a few hours, or more, each week to volunteer service.” Additionally, he called “upon all communities throughout the United States to recognize volunteers by observing the week with special ceremonies to honor those who have given countless hours for the betterment of our communities and the American way of life.”
The celebration of volunteers was boosted further by President George H. W. Bush in his 1991 State of the Union address (January 29): “America has always led by example. So, who among us will set the example? Which of our citizens will lead us in this next American century? Everyone who steps forward today — to get one addict off drugs, to convince one troubled teenager not to give up on life, to comfort one AIDS patient, to help one hungry child.
“We have within our reach the promise of a renewed America. We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light. And it is expressed by all who know the irresistible force of a child’s hand, of a friend who stands by you and stays there, a volunteer’s generous gesture, an idea that is simply right.
“The problems before us may be different, but the key to solving them remains the same. It is the individual — the individual who steps forward. And the state of our Union is the union of each of us, one to the other — the sum of our friendships, marriages, families, and communities.
“We all have something to give. So, if you know how to read, find someone who can’t. If you’ve got a hammer, find a nail. If you’re not hungry, not lonely, not in trouble, seek out someone who is. Join the community of conscience. Do the hard work of freedom. And that will define the state of our Union.” It is now the Points of Light, an international nonprofit nonpartisan organization that organizes activities to celebrate National Volunteer Week.
Fernandina Beach is rich with volunteers. With the exception of the City Commission, every other board and commission is comprised of volunteers: nearly twenty groups totaling approximately one hundred residents. These residents dedicate countless hours to administer tasks and offer guidance on many different facets of local government: planning; parks; code enforcement; pensions; the Historic District, the Airport, the Marina, and the Golf Course; arts and culture; and others. Without these volunteers, city government could not function.
Many of these volunteers have served for years, some out of passion for their purpose; others, because few others have come forward. The City needs a steady stream of volunteers, bringing new insight and experience to the boards and commissions. Service on the boards and commissions can serve as an introduction to city government organization and operation.
Volunteer efforts are not limited to boards and commissions. The Police Auxiliary Corps has dozens of volunteers to provide support for the community. Main Street’s Executive Board is filled with volunteers. Volunteers support beautification efforts downtown, social support activities of numerous non-profits agencies. It is the combined effort of volunteers that define our community.
Because we are consumed by our daily duties, the role and efforts of the hundreds of volunteers are frequently overlooked. These volunteers may serve publicly on the boards and commissions described above or they may serve anonymously through donations to support local and regional efforts. They are all valuable and deserve to be recognized.
Thank you to all of you.