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Volunteers help carry the needy

The month of April is National Volunteer Month — a time when organizations and communities recognize the extraordinary services volunteers offer to society.

Whether it’s feeding the hungry, reading books to elementary school students, caring for veterans, or organizing charitable fundraisers, the contributions of volunteers are both fiscally beneficial and effective in providing service delivery to all kinds of organizations.

National Volunteer Month began with the proclamation of National Volunteer Week, an executive order issued by President Richard Nixon in 1974. Since then, every level of government officials continue to utilize this time of year to encourage Americans to volunteer their time and services for the betterment of humanity.

As a result, volunteerism has become more and more instrumental in advancing the mission of both for-profit and nonprofit organizations in remarkable ways. In fact, recent data show more than 62 million volunteers share about 8 billion hours annually to support those in need.

The words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. encapsulate the nature of volunteerism: “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve … you don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

That’s what it’s all about — grace-filled hearts and souls fueled by love are motivating men, women and youth all over the nation to give of themselves for the benefit of others.

Long before the inception of National Volunteer Month, Father Edward Flanagan had become the founder of a home for disadvantaged boys, known as Boys Town in 1917. In Flanagan’s mind, bad boys did not exist.

Therefore, he believed all children could become productive citizens when provided a place to live and emotional support along with academic and vocational training.

Finding a picture in a magazine of a brother bearing the weight of his younger sibling on his back along with a caption that read, “He ain’t heavy Mr., he’s my brother,” Flanagan was moved to solicit permission to use the image and wording. However, he made a slight adjustment in phrasing so that it read, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.”

This imagery was of interest to Flanagan because there had been a boy in his care who struggled with walking due to having braces on his legs. The other boys would assist him by taking turns riding him on their backs. Flanagan began using the picture and words as a logo to portray the soul of Boys Town.

This concept, “He ain’t heavy,” became the theme of a hit song composed by Bobby Scott and Bob Russel in the late 1960s. The song captures the spirit of volunteerism — the desire to willfully and freely carry the weight of those in need. The second verse expresses the heart and vigor of selfless Americans who, like the young men of Boys Town, make National Volunteer Month worth celebrating.

“So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

The Rev. Gail T. Smith is pastor of the Universal Light Christian Center in Macon.

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