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Voluntarism: An Expanding Field With a Slick New Image

April 28, 1985|TIA GINDICK | Times Staff Writer

Meaning well is no longer enough.

Talk voluntarism today and you hear terms like transitioning, retooling, validation, certification and recognition. Today there are volunteer directors, coordinators, advocates, trainers, educators and consultants. There is corporate involvement and community participation. Voluntarism can get you a paying job; a job can get you into voluntarism.

The hottest thing on the volunteer scene is the technology transfer volunteer. But there's still a need for people to address envelopes.

In the last 10 years, voluntarism has grown up. It's become sophisticated, a field.

(The term voluntarism --not volunteerism --is the choice of those in the field.)

It's even a profession, where volunteer directors--seeing themselves as professionals who borrow knowledge from the behavioral sciences, public relations and business management--can measure their ability by seeking certification. Acquiring Assn. of Volunteer Administration certification, which has only been available in its current performance-oriented form since 1983, can have as much marketing value as the initials CPA to an accountant.

Volunteer recognition has new status: from the White House, which last Monday, as the prelude to National Volunteer Week, honored 18 volunteer groups and individuals for outstanding achievement, to Pasadena, where it was the theme of the 1984 Rose Parade.

Today you find volunteers like:

--Les Corey of North Dartmouth, Mass., one of the new "technology transfer volunteers" and an honoree at Monday's White House ceremony. Corey has spent his spare time for the last three years working with state-of-the-art equipment to develop computerized communications systems for the developmentally impaired. So far, he and the other engineering professionals in the association he founded at Southeast Massachusetts University have provided individualized systems for 24 people.

--Dolores Wong, who lives in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, had only done "the usual--Cub Scouts, PTA, precinct work," until meeting a children's librarian named Ruby Ling Louie, who had an idea about a branch library in Chinatown. The city's initial response was that Chinatown's population didn't justify its own branch library. So starting from scratch in 1971, Wong found herself leading a grass-roots movement involving appeals and petitions to the mayor and city council, continuous badgering of the Library Commission, a three-year search for land or a storefront, dealing with more bureaucrats and finally, in 1977, opening a library in the auditorium of Castellar School.

That was just the beginning. After two months of operation, the library showed a circulation of 30,000. Wong and company applied for a federal grant, eventually receiving $523,000, and also started hard-core fund raising for an additional $227,000 toward expansion. That accomplished in 1982, the Friends of the Chinatown Library has since raised an additional $64,000 for such things as book security, landscaping, furnishing and rare Chinese books. A drive to raise $500,000 for a separate children's wing is now under way.

Wong talks about how the library brought the Chinese community together, including people from outside Chinatown, and the feeling of satisfaction she got from seeing "children, old people, waiters, garment workers, acculturated Chinese who come here because there's no place else." Nevertheless, she concedes with a laugh, "if you'd told me at the beginning what was involved, how many crises we'd have, what had to be raised, I'd have died. But the project was so exciting, we just all said 'Let's go for it.' "

--Dr. Vernon Falkenhain of Rolla, Mo., who since 1977 has led teams of obstetricians and optometrists to eight countries. Now his organization, Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, figures it has provided 28,000 pairs of glasses. He also received a 1985 President's Volunteer Action Award.

While voluntarism has always been appreciated, its image traditionally was somewhat limited to homemakers who, with a little extra time on their hands, donated a few hours each week at a hospital or museum. There were many more people involved, of course. But voluntarism was primarily considered an after-hours activity demanding more heart than skill.

Today, contends Eva Schindler-Rainman, a Los Angeles-based writer, trainer and pioneer consultant in the field, voluntarism "looks more powerful, influential and pervasive."

Sign of Status

Indeed, the most telling indication of the status of voluntarism today may be, as Rainman observed, that listing one's volunteer accomplishments and skills on personal resumes, has become de rigueur .

Who or what to thank for this change of status?

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