Volunteers must step up for community - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Volunteers must step up for community

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Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 8:22 pm | Updated: 3:55 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Bob Schuster: With government services being slashed right and left, it’s time for all of us to step up. Volunteerism always has been an important American tradition, and it’s deeply rooted in Mesa’s culture as well. But several decades of expanding government have eroded our willingness to help our neighbors in need; we assume the government will take care of them.

With government services being slashed right and left, it's time for all of us to step up.

Volunteerism always has been an important American tradition, and it's deeply rooted in Mesa's culture as well. But several decades of expanding government have eroded our willingness to help our neighbors in need; we assume the government will take care of them.

No more. Even our most vulnerable populations - homeless children and individuals with developmental disabilities - are suffering deep cuts in services that had helped them live reasonably normal lives.

We can respond in one of two ways. We can wring our hands and demand our elected representatives replace these services with money that no longer exists. Or we can roll up our sleeves, step up and support community-based programs that replace these services.

That's what's beginning to happen here in Mesa, thanks to a long-standing partnership between many of our churches, schools, charitable organizations, neighborhood groups and Mesa United Way. And that's why I chose to do volunteer work for Mesa United Way when I retired recently from the newspaper business. My job is to help get the word out about programs that need your support - whether it's a few dollars or a few hours. Whatever you're willing and able to give back to your community.

One of our challenges right now is to stock Helen's Hope Chest, a clothing and supplies "store" for foster children created by Mesa United Way to make up for drastic cuts in state aid to foster families. The Hope Chest will open Feb. 13, but its coordinator, Janine McKay, already is helping outfit foster kids with clothing and school supplies at no cost to their caregivers.

She needs lots of new and gently used clothing for kids of all ages, plus backpacks and other school supplies, personal hygiene products, toys and even small appliances for young adults who are "aging out" of foster care and setting up their own households. Monetary donations also are welcome and will be used to purchase the most-needed items. These kids need and deserve new or like-new products and are always grateful for what they get because they've had so little.

Donations can be dropped off at the Mesa United Way office, 137 E. University Drive, between Center Street and Mesa Drive. Consider organizing a donation drive at your place of employment, your church, neighborhood group, club or service organization.

Helen's Hope Chest will open in a vacated municipal building near the United Way headquarters, and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will be on hand to cut the ribbon. Let's fill it up before the grand opening.

There will be more worthy projects as the year progresses, including a "Walk United" pledge event in April that includes a 3-mile hike through downtown Mesa to benefit Mesa public schools, which have faced deep cuts as well. You'll be hearing more about that in the days ahead.

That brings me to my final point. In order for you, your friends, neighbors, co-workers and fellow church and club members to get involved, you'll need to be well informed. We'll be getting the word out to the local news media, but we also want to communicate directly with you and the organizations you're associated with.

We'd love to put you and your organizations on our e-mail mailing list. Just send me the contact information at bob.schuster@mesaunitedway.org, and we'll make sure you get all the pertinent facts in plenty of time to get involved. I look forward to hearing from you as you "step up" to meet these community challenges.

We can do it if we work together. And reclaiming the traditional meaning of true community will be enormously satisfying.

Bob Schuster retired Dec. 31 from a 24-year career in the newspaper business in the south East Valley and is a volunteer public information specialist for Mesa United Way. Reach him at bob.schuster@mesaunitedway.org.

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