Tonight I was a guest at the volunteer appreciation banquet for Cooperating Ministries, a local services group. They do everything from aid stranded travelers, assist social services, and run a food pantry for the needy. Local government and an alliance of religious groups work together to help them provide these services. They have seen an increasing demand for their services in the last couple of years that has stretched their abilities to the limits. It is amazing how cheerful and hopeful all the volunteers are in the face of the trying situations they face.
The evening was pretty standard for such ceremonies - a great meal, some good visiting and companionship, a brief entertainment, and then the naming of the volunteer of the year. This years volunteer of the year winners (co-winners) were typical of the involvement of the volunteer corps. One is a noted Red Cross volunteer, a sitting member of the school board, and of course a Cooperating Ministries volunteer. Makes you proud to know all of these people on a first name basis!
On a fun note, the theme of the evening was tropical. The theme sounded like a lot of fun until the last day or so as the temperatures dropped and the snow flurries hit. I was all ready to wear shorts and my Hawaiian shirt with a lei, but the coolness forced long pants. Mike Sperber, the director of the Cooperating Ministries program, is a fun loving joker and came dressed in Hawaiian shirt and pants. But then he was convinced by his staff to complete the outfit as shown. Note the hard shelled coconut bra and the charming grass skirt. Makes me wish I'd had a good camera with me. Mike shed the costume extras right after his welcome oration. Can't say that I blamed him! They offered me a grass skirt of my own, but I graciously declined.
I always wonder how long service groups like this will persist. Like most service groups here, the volunteers are mostly 55+ year old people and those who are retired. If I had to make a guess as to the average age of tonight's crowd, I'd guess 70+. What is going to happen in the next 20 years as the baby boomers in this service generation begin to pass into the sunset. There is a dearth of younger volunteers across all service groups in the area. Who will step up in community service roles in the future? It is a question that community leaders are pondering on a daily basis. Everywhere I go and talk to other community leaders, this is one of the hot topics. Some communities have already seen most of their service groups fade away. They also seem to be disappearing in populous areas even faster than here in the rural countryside. What's the status of service groups like Lions, Kiwanis, etc. in your area? Are they growing and active?