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My good friend Jim North invited me to speak before the Merced Kiwanis at the club’s February 16 meeting.  He asked me to prepare some comments about volunteerism as the club is trying to attract new members. Currently, I am on inactive status at another Merced service club.  My work demands take me away from regular club attendance so I asked my service club to put me on that status. 

What that means is that I remain linked to the organization, but am temporarily relieved from such membership requirements as regular meeting attendance.

I believe in volunteering for a number of reasons.  First of all, the Merced community needs it.  Any community with unemployment as high as Merced’s rate ~ certainly has more than its’ share of challenges. 

Volunteers can help identify needs, and rise to the occasion to meet these needs.

Volunteering benefits the person giving his or her time to a good cause.  Just ask the men and women of Merced Kiwanis about how they feel as they plan and work on a community project. 

Whether it’s their thirty-plus years as bell-ringers for the Salvation Army’s holiday fund drive, preparing turkeys to help feed over two-thousand people at the Thanksgiving dinner at the Merced Rescue Mission, or serving up pancakes at their annual fall breakfast, these volunteers are having a good time and feeling good about their community.

Merced Kiwanis also helps children in our community through scholarships, the Zoo-Boo Halloween event, the Junior Olympics, and the Special Olympics.  Club members feel good about the work they do.  Our children benefit from these volunteers, who also serve as role models for community stewardship.

I wrote about volunteerism as one of fourteen soft skills in my 2009 book Soft Skills for Hard Times. I wrote the book as a means to give credibility to employers who often tell me they could train an employee on a specific job, but that it was hard for them to teach someone on such soft skills as attitude or showing up ready to work. 

I took these common soft skills, added a few that I thought were relevant, and compiled a quick read on what gives employees an added advantage in today’s economy.  Naturally, I think volunteerism is an important soft skill.

In the chapter on volunteerism, I share the story of a friend of mine who had passed away at the age of eighty-four.  I first met him when he was on the interview team for a job that I was up for at a chamber of commerce. 

He took me to task for not having any volunteer activities on my resume.  I defended my resume by saying I was too busy working to have time for civic activities.  He didn’t like my answers and he let me know it. He was right.

Somehow, I was hired by the organization and I stayed there for ten years.  But I made it my business to inject myself into the community.  One sure fire way for me to do that was through volunteering.  I joined a civic club, stepped up my church related activities, and said, “yes” more and more when called up to serve in the community. 

I have my friend George to thank for showing me that volunteering matters.

There’s a country music song that George Strait, one of my favorite singers performs regularly.   One of the lines in that song goes like this:  “You don’t bring nothing with you here, and you can’t take nothing back.  I never saw a hearse with a luggage rack.”

The person who wrote those lyrics for George Strait is onto something.  We come to this life with nothing, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave.  What really matters is what we do during the time we’re here on this earth.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced