Volunteering is a calling for many in the Susquehanna Valley.
From fire and fire police personnel to hospital staff, community revitalization groups, environmental monitors and local students participating in clean-up campaigns, these people are quick to put aside their work or their normal daily activities to help others.
The motivations behind volunteering and the reasons why volunteers stayed or moved away during the COVID-19 pandemic may vary from person to person.
Research by Richard J. Harnish, a professor of psychology at Penn State University, identified six key reasons people volunteer: core values, understanding, social, career, protection, and enhancement.
Harnish approached the study from a functionalism perspective. “What that means is that we have certain attitudes or beliefs because they perform various functions for us,” he said.
When a volunteer acts selflessly or in a way that meets their humanitarian concerns, it aligns with their core values.
“Volunteering is a way of expressing an individual’s values that are important to them,” he said. “And so, maybe, when they’re talking to hospital volunteers or those who are constantly volunteering at the community level, they’re doing it because they hold those values of selflessness and caring for others, which is true and dear to their hearts.”
People who volunteer for an understanding reason do so to share their knowledge, skills, and abilities with those in need.
Some people volunteer because they are concerned about social relationships. They might want to improve their friendship network.
As personal friendships can benefit, so can careers.
“Volunteering can help you network, advance your career goals, or perhaps take advantage of some training you may be lacking. Leadership skills, for example,” Harnish said.
In some cases, people feel guilt or anxiety about the good fortunes they have experienced.
“They have blessings and here is an opportunity to give back,” he said, explaining the protective motivation. “And by giving back, it reduces that level of anxiety or guilt about being luckier than others.”
Improvement is another motive, Harnish said, tied to personal goals. By becoming more involved in the community, a volunteer may seek to grow personally, give back and/or build a legacy.
“We found that among academics, it really drove why they would volunteer in the community,” Harnish said.
The university’s teaching staff is evaluated in three areas: teaching scholarship, research scholarship and service scholarship.
inner motivationLou VanGelder, from Northumberland, said he grew up in an atmosphere of volunteerism.
“My dad was from the Danville Fire Department, so at 12 I was hanging out in the fire department and eventually became a fire chief in Northumberland. I am a paramedic, almost a paramedic,” he said.
VanGelder has worked with doctors in Vietnam.
“I can’t even imagine how many things I’ve done in my life as volunteers,” he said.
A neighbor of VanGelder in Northumberland, Buzz Meachum did not have a similar upbringing.
“I can’t remember a time in my life as a young person when anyone in my family did anything unusual,” he said. “My parents were busy raising kids and working. So there was no time.
“I just seemed to have a lot of free time, whatever type of job I was in.”
Meachum doesn’t volunteer so people can pat him on the back.
He keeps a low profile if possible, he said.
“I like to do as much anonymous stuff as possible,” Meachum said. “Also, if people get the idea that you’re volunteering for a lot of things, they’ll start calling you and you’ll learn to say no, which I’ve already learned to do.
“I do the things I love to do.”
Meachum now sits on the board of TIME in Milton, handling property management and grounds maintenance.
“The older I get, the less sociable I am,” he said candidly, “and I tend to find myself volunteering for things that don’t really require me to spend a lot of time with other people. “
Meachum does a lot of headstone cleaning, from Norry to Mifflinburg and Beaver Springs, New Columbia and Milton.
“I’ve probably cleaned over 400 headstones in the last four years,” he said. “I bought a pressure washer. If I have time, I’ll get in my car and drive through a cemetery. If I see a flag. I free the veterans. I see a flag, I see what shape it is. If I can do something, I will.
“Just finished The William Cameron Family in Lewisburg. My God, it took days.
There is no religious aspect to why Meachum volunteers.
The goal of each day is to give more than you take, and that’s a good way to live, he said.
One of the catchphrases he uses is: the best gift you can give someone is your time, because you’re giving them something you’ll never get back.
“I like to do things anonymously because I don’t want any waits,” he said. “I have the satisfaction of doing things.”
“It’s hard to do without being discovered. I find it very satisfying. My life has been good. I’m just happy to do what I can for those in need. You are refunded in a strange way.
Volunteering is almost a kind of spiritual experience for Meachum.
He said a life of gratitude is the way to live.
“There’s always something to be grateful for, no matter how shitty your life may seem,” Meachum said. “There are always people worse off than you.”
VanGelder agreed with Meachum, saying there’s a lot to do in the world and nobody seems to want to do it.
“I’m here to do it,” he said. “Anything I can. I wish I could do more.
The food bank at Saint John’s Lutheran Church in Danville is his latest joy, he said.
In St. John’s, VanGelder said, volunteers don’t ask questions. “If you can get to my door, you leave with something,” he said. “You will get what you need. I wish we could give more.
“We are helping a lot of people here in the Central Susquehanna Valley. It breaks my heart to hear the stories of people who need help.
VanGelder sets up the food bank room, but it’s not big enough for the food in it, it comes and goes, but he estimated it was probably worth around $25,000.
“We buy everything. We receive nothing but bread. Other than that, everything is purchased through grants or monetary donations,” he said.
The pandemicMeachum and his wife are rescue road warriors – they transfer pets, moving them from Midwestern kill shelters across the country to the East. Many end up in New York and Connecticut.
“It must have stopped the longest,” he said. “We meet a caravan and pick up the dogs assigned to us and take them to Bloomsburg. Then someone in Bloomsburg takes them. It was sad for me when this program was delayed.
Meachum volunteered at Saint John’s Lutheran in Danville for food distribution and had a heartbreaking reaction similar to VanGelder’s. He said it was so heartbreaking he couldn’t do it anymore.
The years I can afford it, Meachum said, “I give Giant gift cards. Or give these cards to the police and tell them to give the cards to people they know who can use them.
“I’ve been doing this for several years. It satisfies me and keeps me anonymous.
VanGelder said food bank attendance by those in need initially dropped during the pandemic, but the number of volunteers stayed about the same.
It’s all about the kidsJust about any day of the week and any time of the day, Slade Shreck of Sunbury is volunteering somewhere to improve his town. He and Jody Ocker were co-chairs of Sunbury’s half-centenary celebration earlier this month.
Shreck was born and raised in Sunbury. He and his siblings were raised by a single mother.
“We were one poor family,” he recalls. “My mother always said to give back because people gave to us.”
Growing up while staying at Sunbury, “I always loved giving back,” Shreck said. He volunteers with the Shikellamy School District.
“I want to show kids how rewarding giving back can be and how much fun it can be,” he said.
That’s why Shreck organizes the donkey basketball and the bonfire.
“I do it for the kids,” he says.
Shreck said he doesn’t take money and usually whatever he does, the money comes out of his own pocket. “I love Sunbury,” he said.
“I always help someone do something,” he says. “Anyway, I can help. If it’s a fundraiser, I’ll help.