Zachary Maher

There is no better time than now for a tide of volunteers to step up and undertake a year of national service.

As an Americorps VISTA alumni I can speak firsthand to not just the benefits those thousands of volunteers bring to their communities, but also the impact that such a commitment imparts on a volunteer’s sense of self: both selflessness and self-worth.

AmeriCorps VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America and focuses on providing service opportunities which focus on economic, educational, environmental and disaster responsiveness. These programs work relentlessly to unite both rural and urban communities, strengthening their resiliency and preparedness while carving future leaders out of forthcoming generations.

Now, as a commissioner for Volunteer Maine, I have the honor of continuing to serve an organization which provided me with so many understated, but humbling experiences during my term of service for both the U-Maine 4H Camp and Learning Center in Bryant Pond, and the Mahoosuc Arts Council in Bethel.

Volunteer Maine is a diverse, bipartisan group of citizens, actively engaged in building capacity and sustainability in Maine’s volunteer sector by funding service programs, developing volunteer managers and service-learning practitioners, raising awareness of the scope and the impact of the volunteer sector, and encouraging an ethic of service.

There are many paths to volunteerism. For some it is an opportunity to try new things and meet new people while for others it is, as Wilfred Grenfell calls it, a service we render others as the rent we pay for our room on Earth. Volunteerism is a productive, direct-action means to promote economic, social and environmental transformations within our own communities. Volunteerism prepares us for future service while simultaneously raising the bar of expectations for those around us.

It is all too easy to be unhappy with what we see happening around us nowadays. The world we are inheriting is not pristine, prosperous or peaceful, but it is beautiful and full of latent potential. Albert Camus, one of the youngest Nobel Prize winners in history, recalled that “each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.”

In the face of all that is seemingly going wrong with the world today, the only true fear we should have is that of inaction. This current state of disarray is an existential push for a fledgling generation to get inspired. In reference to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the attacks of Sept. 11 and the JFK assassination, William Strauss stressed it is indeed through the prism of tragedies such as these that new generations are defined. Simply put, it is our turn to stand up and take the reins, effectively defining ourselves as that which we know to be true in our hearts. This generational identity is ours to define, but the only way to accomplish this is through action, volunteerism and service to an ideal greater than ourselves.

I believe America is that ideal, one which characterizes not just a sense of place, but a sense of self. It represents our neighbors as well as complete strangers; it represents generations of accomplishments as well as the bleak yet fertile ground needed to grow the accomplishments of tomorrow.

The first step for people interested in learning to sow the grains and cultivate these fields of change is to lean into our collective future. What better time than during National Volunteer Month to visit volunteermaine.gov. There you will find a list of opportunities and resources for those ready to get involved and make an impact in the world around you.

And remember, as Wilfred Grenfell reminds us, “it is courage the world needs, not infallibility …”

Zachary Maher of Poland is a commissioner for Volunteer Maine, town manager of Mechanic Falls, and an Americorps VISTA alumni.


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