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  • Writer's pictureDavid Grassé

Volunteerism in Arizona

I have just finished Doing What the Day Brought: An Oral History of Arizona Women, compiled by Mary Logan Rothchild and Pamela Claire Hronek. In the book was a chapter entitled "Building Arizona's Communities," which I found interesting. In this chapter, the women who were interviewed discuss their involvement in various social organizations which had the goal of "building the institutions that made their communities better places to live." Almost everyone of the women the authors spoke with had been involved in these types of organizations, from women's clubs and the YWCA to NAACP and historical societies. This got me to thinking about the slow and steady decline of such organizations in our modern culture. I recall giving a book presentation at the local chapter of the Masonic Lodge, and noticing there were no members who were not well past the age of retirement. This made me wonder how much longer these types of volunteer organizations, ones which build community, work for civic improvements, and provide aid to those in need, are going to be around. I also wondered why there has been such a drastic decline in membership in said organizations. Is it simple the younger generations do not have the time and money? Or is it a general malaise and lack of empathy in our culture? Or perhaps a combination of these? In trying to start my own non-profit organization, Preserve Arizona, which has the stated mission of saving some of the state's old, historic buildings, I have found it very difficult to convince people to get involved. It was quite the struggle just to put together a board of directors and find four officers. A lot of the older people I spoke with felt they were too old, and had too many health problems to take on such responsibilities, and the younger people seemed too caught up in maintaining their livelihood. Basically, between working full-time and raising families, they did not have the time or energy. I think another problem is the fact a majority of people in this state are emigrants. Of the women who were interviewed in the book, most were either born in Arizona, or came here as children, and they spent their lives here, This gave them a connection to the state most people who reside here today do not have. To bastardize the famed John F. Kennedy quote, the majority citizens of the state today seem to live by the motto: "Ask not what you can do for Arizona. Ask what Arizona can do for you." This becomes readily apparent when one looks to the state legislature and recent governors (whom I prefer to refer to as "carpetbaggers"). These people have no roots here, and, therefore, do not care about building communities or engaging in civic improvement. There only concern is supporting that which serves them directly. Needless to say, as a historian and Arizona native, this trend of moving away from local volunteerism and community building concerns me. What will become of my beloved state? Will it lose all its unique charm, to have it replaced with Walmarts and Olive Gardens and Amazon hubs? Will the Arizonian, the person who takes pride in the state and its diverse peoples and culture, be replaced by these selfish, resource-devouring emigrants who do not give a damn? The very thought rankles me to the core.

Guess I have no alternative but to try and fight this reprehensible trend, and continue with my own little efforts in this arena. Hopefully, other will see value in what I am trying to accomplish, and join and support me.

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