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FROM THE EDITOR'S PEN / Honoring the Ultimate Volunteer / Editorial List

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Gary Barg

Honoring the Ultimate Volunteer

Yesterday, I served as the luncheon speaker at the Alzheimer’s Family Center’s 17th Volunteer Recognition Luncheon. This is an amazing organization run by Barbara Sussman, an indomitable force of nature, who I have known for more years than either of us wishes to admit.

It was a real honor to be asked to honor volunteers for family caregivers. I have always believed that all family caregivers are volunteers (by definition) and all volunteers are caregivers (by definition and deeds). Both groups share the qualities of loving, caring, giving their all and putting themselves out for others on a regular basis.

One thing that many people do not know is that so many volunteers are also presently or have been family caregivers. No matter if they are running a support group, feeding our loved ones, or just making us realize that we are not alone – each and every volunteer is a blessing to each and every family caregiver.

In fact, volunteers and caregivers have one other thing in common. Just like in the military when the drill sergeant asks for volunteers and everyone but one person steps back…that person is usually a volunteer or a family caregiver. 

The secret that those who step backward instead of forward will never understand is that those who serve are actually the winners. The caregivers and volunteers who step up are the true manifestation of the phrase “Giving is getting.” So, the joke’s on them.

In my conversations with many thousands of family caregivers over the past 19 years, many things have become crystal clear. One of the most important is that we family caregivers must not remain the silent chaperone sitting in the corner of the examining room as our loved one is attended to by his or her doctor. We have a voice that needs to be heard and respected by the members of our loved one’s care team. In fact, we must learn to become leading members of the team. Just as the other members have jobs to do, so do we. Ours is to share the human face of our loved one; many times, these care professionals are not seeing our loved one as we know them to be. We need to help remind them of who our loved ones are, were and have been.

And, as well as seeking help for our loved ones from the medical community, we caregivers must also learn to seek out help within our community. There are many people who are reaching out to help us as we care for our loved ones and they do it out of sheer love and devotion to their fellow community members. Front and center in that group are volunteers.

A Volunteer's Poem

Giving is getting, or so they say
I give a bit of my heart, my soul and my all
And am rewarded in ways both great and small
That’s good to know and better to hear
But the truth is more silent, so please do step near
The reason I give is simple and clear
The reason I give is not to be saluted or even adored
That would be something to make me quite bored
The reason I give, the reason I care
The reason you’ll find me ready, able and near
Is that, above all else, I am a proud volunteer.    

And in fact, there is no better time to honor volunteers than a few days before Mothers’ Day, when we all honor the ultimate volunteer.

Gary Barg

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