I would say that many who live in Ashland and visit here would say that Ashland is a wonderful place to live. Count me among them. What makes Ashland special, though? Of course, there are many answers this question, but what I want to focus on today is the impact that volunteerism has on our town. In fact, let’s examine the return on investment (ROI, if you will) that volunteerism has on our community.
Certainly one can begin by looking at the success of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival over the years and the positive impact it has had on our city. The work of the leadership and staff of the OSF over the many years should not be undervalued or underappreciated. Their collective vision and efforts have helped make Ashland a cultural destination and expanded opportunities for many in our town. However, we should not forget the many volunteers whose passion for the arts and commitment to make the experience a memorable one for attendees as one of the reasons so many return year after year. The same can be said for economic impact that volunteers have had at other cultural events, such as the Ashland Independent Film Festival, the Ashland Culinary Festival and the First Friday Art Walk (just to name a few).
This same passion can be seen in the volunteers who put in countless hours each month with our local social service organizations and volunteer organizations in Ashland. In fact, I could spend my word limit on this article simply listing the worthy volunteer opportunities in town.
The reason I am writing this article is not only to say thank you for the work of our many volunteers who serve in so many ways, it is also to remind us all how important the role of volunteering is in our society. I believe that as Ashlanders, we are very aware the impact a person can make on another’s life by simply asking “can I help?” and stepping in to do so without any expectation of payback. I believe we do it because we feel it is the right thing to do and somewhere in our past we were the beneficiaries of someone spending their time, energy and money to help us.
However, I believe it goes even deeper than that. One would have to wonder where we would be as a society in general without the willingness of people to step up, having no expectation of remuneration, and volunteer to serve others. I fear that it would be a place we would not recognize, nor one we would want to live in. Fortunately, the love we have for one another, our desire to protect and help our neighbors thrive that drives us. I believe that it is a drive developed in us over many years, after our ancestors learned how important it was for a community to support each other that increased its chance at survival.
The times we live in are no different. Volunteerism is not just a nice thing to put down on a resume or good for a "humble brag" at a dinner party. It is vital to our way of life. We face different challenges than our ancestors did, but in the end I believe that our ability to not only survives, but thrive as a community will depend on what we are willing to do for each other. So, for all of you that already give of your valuable time to help others, thank you, and to anyone who does not yet volunteer, make some time. Stretch a little. Get dirty. Meet some new people. Get a little uncomfortable. You will not only make someone’s life better, but you will find that your life will get exponentially better, too. You will also be contributing to the overall success of your species. Not a bad return on your investment.