This week, April 18-24, is National Volunteer Week, which is a time to thank one of our nation’s most valuable assets — volunteers — and call the public’s attention to all that they do to improve our communities.

Sponsored nationally by the Points of Light Institute, National Volunteer Week began in 1974 when President Richard M. Nixon signed an executive order establishing the week as an annual celebration of volunteering. Every president since has signed a proclamation promoting National Volunteer Week. The theme, “celebrating people in action,” truly captures the meaning behind this signature week — honoring the individuals who dedicate themselves to taking action and solving problems in their communities.

What would small communities do without volunteers?  Persons who work on city councils, hospital boards, and many other types of community boards receive no pay, but do it because they want to serve.  Places of entertainment, such as museums, theatres, art shows and others need volunteers.  When towns hold their annual festivals, they depend on volunteers to ensure success.  In most small towns, volunteer firemen and women are the ones fighting fires. In some cases, they may receive assistance from professional support teams; however, most of the time, these communities rely totally on their volunteer firemen and first responders.

Young people volunteer on summer projects; rather than spending their time going swimming, to the mall, or other fun things, they are swinging a hammer, painting, or performing other tasks, to repair homes for folks that otherwise can’t afford repairs.  Students also volunteer by collecting money for worthwhile causes, or running a race for financial pledges to help on special projects.

Hospital volunteers help their hospital meet budget by doing all types of clerical work at no charge.  They also hold fundraisers in order to buy needed equipment, thereby freeing up the hospital to make other purchases.  An important part of hospital volunteers are Pink Ladies, who serve in the patient areas of hospitals, doing various duties as outlined by volunteer criteria.  Church members can always be counted on to do whatever they can to help out their communities in times of troubles.  And what on earth would we do in times of destruction: fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, if it weren’t for the Salvation Army, Red Cross, and many other groups who wouldn’t be able to fulfill their duties without dedicated volunteers.

If you prefer not to help in a group, there are many ways to give the gift of yourself: reading to someone in a nursing home, running errands, cooking a meal for a family with a sick member, or simply calling an elderly friend to make sure they are o.k.  One can never know what that act of kindness may mean to someone.  Anyone with time to spare should give volunteering a try.

To quote Muhammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”