People volunteer for many reasons, but tragedies such as the destruction of the World Trade Center and storms like tornadoes and hurricanes bring out the best in us. We cannot say enough about the rescuers who exhaust themselves pulling survivors from the rubble and providing medical attention.
But many volunteers also provide time and services throughout our daily lives, whether it's serving food in a shelter or wiring a school for network communications. In response to my recent editorial on the communication difficulties between different rescue agencies after the World Trade Center collapse, several readers reminded me about the radio amateurs that volunteered both their time and equipment to provide vital communications throughout the region. Whether they served in times of trouble or just as part of daily life, all of these volunteers deserve much more credit than they have received for their critical support and efforts.
Radio amateurs, often called Ham radio operators, are omnipresent. Usually, they can be found playing key roles throughout many of the devastating storms that ravage the country. They provide valuable communications in regions where standard communication channels such as landline phones have been disrupted. Their efforts have gone mostly unnoticed and unrewarded, though. Even so, they are unselfish in times of need.
I saw this firsthand when I was a teenager visiting a friend of mine who was a Ham. We were listening to some chatter on one of the radio bands and came across an emergency request for help. As soon as the request was sent, other Hams piled up on the channel and offered their assistance. At the same time, my friend was frustrated because his transmitter didn't have enough power and he couldn't offer his help.
Although times have changed, the spirit of helping is alive and well. However, the tight economy has dampened some of the generosity of many corporate and private donors. This has left many emergency services strapped for funds and short-staffed due to budget cuts. We see the same thing in our own industry with cutbacks and staff reductions. These cutbacks force us to put in more time, doing the work of two or three fellow workers who are gone. That leaves less time to help others, too.
The time we spend to volunteer doesn't have to be huge to make an impact on the people or the community. Taking half a day to help on a community project or just spending an hour or two per week tutoring a student can make a significant difference. This is especially true in education. Getting a student over the rough spots in learning math or any other subject can keep the spark of curiosity burning and perhaps prevent some students from dropping out of school when they feel they are falling too far behind.
So even though the holiday season is over and things may be tough at the office, think about where your expertise or capabilities may best serve the community. Many opportunities to help aren't just seasonal, and much of that help would be gratefully accepted. We can offer that help in many forms, from the sharing of our knowledge, to the use of our brawn, to donations of goods—all serve the community and are just as valuable as they would be in times of catastrophe.