Archive 2008 - 2019

Let's Celebrate, Holliston!

by Paul Deschenes

"Volunteers," Jefferson Airplane, 1969 - Photo courtesy of Mary Deschenes

Celebrate Holliston is upon us. Let's take time to celebrate our town and to thank the many people who volunteer their time, energy and services to the boards, committees and local organizations that benefit us so much throughout the year.

“I need three volunteers.” No response. A second time, a bit louder: “I need three volunteers.”  Again, no response.  The stoic face of the person uttering the words was about four feet away, his eyes locked on mine, but I didn’t move a muscle.  I remembered my father’s advice the night before I was to report for induction into the United States Army. A Purple Heart veteran of WWII and the recipient of two Bronze Stars, he had said: “Whatever you do, do not volunteer.”  But then my sergeant softly said something I could not ignore : “Deschenes, in my platoon my squad leaders volunteer.”

Where would we be without volunteers?  What benefits does Holliston accrue from our cohorts of volunteers?  What do our town committees, peopled by volunteers, provide for us year after year – for free?  How many hours do their members donate and sacrifice for our collective benefit?  What would Holliston look like without the Pantry Shelf, Newcomers, Garden Club, scouts, youth sports, Lions, K of C, PTO, veterans, The Holliston Reporter and so many other organizations?

Nationally, the estimated hourly wage for the services provided by volunteers is approximately $25, amounting to an aggregate of $184 billion per year.  As Sherry Anderson, author of Rising from Defeat said, “Volunteers don’t get paid because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”   Among the states, Utah ranks at the top with 43% of residents volunteering, followed by Minnesota with 35%.  Within New England, Massachusetts (25%) is next-to-last, ahead of only Rhode Island (23%). Nationally, Louisiana (18%) ranks last.  Women volunteer more frequently than men, with a difference between the two of approximately 6%.  Our national “thousand points of light” average volunteering percentage peaked in 2005 at about 28%, but has declined a bit since.

Noted volunteers from the past include Ben Franklin (first volunteer fire department), Agatha Christie (volunteer nurse during WWI), Ella Fitzgerald (sang for The March of Dimes to support the fight against polio), and Sally Ride (creator of a science mentoring program for girls and young women).

On Saturday, we meet to Celebrate Holliston.  Let us celebrate our town and take time to remember and applaud the efforts of those among us who volunteer, including those who bring the event to fruition each year.  It wouldn't happen without them!

Photo courtesy of Mary Deschenes

Celebrate Holliston was established in 1991, the year in which the cost of a first-class postage stamp went up to 29 cents. I looked it up. I wear my red Holliston T-shirt, purchased at that occasion, each year when I attend. I hope to see you at Goodwill Park on September 21st.

As for my introductory anecdote, the setting was Basic Training at Fort Dix, NJ – not a battlefield.  The stakes of the volunteer mission were sure to be low.  It was the end of a dusty, hot and humid day in August.  Our platoon was about to be dismissed to return to our barracks to prepare before lights out for the next morning’s daily inspection.  I was a make-believe corporal with corporal stripes safety-pinned to the sleeve of my fatigues to prove it. I could take a hint.  I rejected my father’s advice.   After my drill sergeant’s third request for volunteers, I and two others stepped forward.  We were held behind as our drill sergeant dismissed the rest of the platoon.  He explained our mission: “I need you three to go to the baseball field and cheer for the battalion softball team,” he said. “Just make sure to be back before lights out.”  And off we went.  This was great, a special treat – cheeseburgers, sodas, ice cream on a warm summer night – and no never-ending barracks cleaning.

The next night as we were about to be dismissed I heard the same request: “I need three volunteers.”  I immediately stepped forward and … it happened again, another battalion softball game.

Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”  A lot of people in Holliston are making a life for themselves and benefiting us along the way.