Op Ed Writer Bob Branco – What Happened to Volunteerism?

I’ve said many times just how hard it is to find people to volunteer their time, when it used to be so easy.  The reason could be that modern society is fast paced, with more and more people in the work force not having much free time to volunteer.  However, after talking to a blind friend of mine last week, it really occurred to me just how much we’ve reached a sad state of affairs.
My friend lives alone in a public housing unit, and he depends on volunteers to help him with his paper work and to go through the mail.  I will not mention who he is because his name is not relevant to the story; only his situation.  What I am about to tell you may shock you, but it’s the truth.  This blind man is having so much trouble finding a volunteer that it’s gotten to the point where his mail is read to him once a month.  Yes,
you read correctly, once a month.  I don’t think I have to tell you the impact of his situation.  It’s true that most of us receive mail that can wait a month to be read, but in a lot of cases it can’t wait that long.  So, here’s the situation as it stands now.  Do we sit back and accept my friend’s situation for what it is, or do we come up with reasonable suggestions toward a better solution to his problem?  I hate to think that many people in his situation have to wait a month for their mail to be read to them, but what if it’s true?
Let’s go further with this.  The only reason why my friend is lucky enough to have his mail read to him once a month is because he happens to have a volunteer visit him for a couple of hours.  What if this volunteer didn’t have time to visit him once a month?  What, in God’s name, would my blind friend do about his mail and the rest of his paper work?
Friends, loved ones, and agencies serving the blind all try to encourage blind people to live as independently as possible, and they are absolutely right.  However, as for reading the mail, it’s not as easy as we think. Some people encourage the blind to go out and buy a scanner to read the mail.  First of all, scanners cost thousands of dollars, and if you’re on S.S.I., it’s impossible for you to get one.  Second of all, as you know, much of our mail is not typewritten, therefore the scanner won’t read it anyway.
If I had my mail read to me once a month, and knew I couldn’t do anything about it, I’d worry every day that my gas, electric, telephone and Cable Television would be shut off because no one’s telling me when to pay the bills.
By this time, some of you probably want to ask me where my friend’s neighbors are and why they can’t read his mail.  I can only tell you that he’s a man of sound mind. I’m assuming he knows his desperate situation well enough so that he could ask his neighbors to help him.  I couldn’t possibly picture a man of his capacity not asking, knowing he’d have to wait a month to have his mail read.  If his neighbors don’t want to be bothered, there’s nothing he can do about it.
In closing, I just want to talk a little about my efforts to obtain such a volunteer to help me with routine business and paper work.  I tried to put in for a volunteer over 10 years ago.  It took 8 years for the agency to find one for me.  This is not the agency’s fault.  It’s a very good agency serving a lot of people, and it does its job very, very well.  So you can’t blame an agency if no one wants to come forward and volunteer for an hour or two a week.  I guess all I can say is that I’m fortunate to have neighbors and friends who want to take a couple of minutes out of their busy day to make sure I’m caught up with everything.  I hope it continues for me, and I hope my friend can have a better situation for himself.

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