According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of volunteer firefighters across the country has been steadily in decline, with a drop of over 132,000 volunteers in just the last four years. Many volunteer fire departments, especially in rural communities, are struggling to meet the demands of their districts.
Even more alarming, the most drastic demographic decline of volunteers is young people. In fact, over 50 percent of current volunteers across the country are over the age of 40. The widespread decrease in volunteering among young people threatens EMS services, pregnancy resource centers, shelters, and non-profits — from the Red Cross to retirement homes.
In other words, a live and pressing question we face as Americans is this: Will younger citizens be prepared, not to mention willing, to step in and maintain so many of the things we take for granted as Americans who rely on volunteers?
Several federal, state, and local government entities have seen the problem and are experimenting with programs that will incentivize young people to volunteer — from high school and college credit, to scholarships, to tax rebates. Pennsylvania has even proposed a program to forgive up to $16,000 in student loans for those who volunteer for four years as a first-responder.
While these sound like good ideas, and we should applaud innovative efforts, government solutions don’t always work out as advertised, and we can’t fix what are ultimately cultural and spiritual problems through political means.
Culturally speaking, ours is a far more mobile society than previous generations, but volunteerism and community engagement are rooted in a sense of ownership for a community. Simply put, it’s hard to foster ownership of a time and place among those always on the move.
Culturally and spiritually speaking, we are all susceptible in this world to the hyper-individualism that marks our age. All of us, but especially young people, are drawn today toward either the pursuit of social media celebrity-status, or personal happiness as our definition of “the good life.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Brooke Boriack