Year-round good will

December 24, 1997|By Jack L. Levin

ACCORDING to the Ancient Talmudic legend of the Lahmed Vovniks (the Thirty-Six), there are at any given time 36 righteous, saintly individuals in Israel and 36 in the Diaspora who try to imNrove the world by helping others. I think that I have used up the quota for North America. As a blind man with congestive heart failure, which makes walking difficult, I am constantly receiving help from good people.

Among the ''Lahmed Vovniks'' to whom I am indebted are my wife, son, daughter-in-law, neighbors and Roslyn and Lem Wills -- my long-suffering secretary and her husband without whose help I could not function at all -- and a retired insurance executive, Samuel Weinblatt who is my dedicated volunteer reader.

For most of us, the season of good will is the five-week period after Thanksgiving. After New Year's Day, its back to business as usual. But for those like Sam, who volunteer to help others on a weekly basis, the happy time of giving and receiving lasts all year.

A new friend

I did not know him when, at the suggestion of the Maryland Society for Sight, he called me offering his service. We are now good old friends.

When my phone rings at about 5: 20 p.m. each Tuesday, I know who is calling.

''Hi, Sam,'' I answer. ''How are you?''

''Fine, 8: 15 OK?''

''Sure, I look forward to your visit as always.''

''I'll be there,'' says Sam.

Sam has been there for me virtually every Tuesday evening for three years, excepting only a few weeks for visiting his children and grandchildren living elsewhere. Each week, he brings a folder containing articles clipped from publications of interest to me. His readings are more stimulating than tapes and recordings because they provide an opportunity for discussion.

Volunteers like Sam are brightening the lives of the blind all over the United States. Hospitals, health care and religious institutions, schools, libraries and countless social organizations like Meals on Wheels and home care for the elderly facing severe budget cuts and growing needs, could not operate without support of thousands of volunteers.

The trend to volunteer is receiving a powerful push from corporations seeking to improve their public image.

When Robert K. Goodwin, president and chief executive officer of The Points of Light Foundation of Washington, said recently, ''Enlightened corporations have known for generations that their long-term viability and profitability is related to corporate citizenship, but only recently have firms been encouraging employees to become active in their communities.

When Nancy Goldberg, associate director of Boston College's Center for Corporate Community Relations (CCCR) of Massachusetts said, ''Volunteerism puts a face on a company,'' they were preaching to the choir.

A poll of community relations executives taken by CCCR shows that 79 percent conduct volunteer programs for their firms, 51 percent loan their executives to community causes without charge and 49 percent conduct incentive programs for volunteering. The leaders of these companies encourage employees to volunteer and even allow time off with pay to do their good deeds.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 49 percent of Americans passed up the TV sitcoms to volunteer for at least one cause during the year, an increase over the 43 percent recorded in a poll two years earlier. Actually, the 49 percent is a majority of those able to volunteer since the 51 percent includes not only those who do not give, but also those who cannot because they are preoccupied with their own daily survival.

Volunteerism improves morale, reduces employee turnover, attracts better employees and benefits the entire community.

I am suggesting to the Maryland Society for Sight that it send to each client a Volunteer Readers Appreciation Fund form with spaces for name, address and phone of the client and the volunteer reader and provision for committing a small weekly donation to the society. It will remind the grateful client that, although the volunteer receives no compensation, the society does need financial support.

That can be expressed by pledging a nominal sum. It will be emphasized that the services are provided without charge or obligation and that any financial expression of appreciation is purely voluntary.

There is much to be ashamed of in our nation's history: slavery, racial and religious discrimination and indifference to the poor, but so much more to be proud of, especially the achievements of our volunteers.

Their invaluable work is more than a feel-good exercise. It helps to relieve the needs of the desperately poor and sick. It is not charity or pity, but empathy and love. It brightens the world with year-round good will.

Jack L. Levin writes from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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