When I visited with a friend near my home in Williamston, Mich., on Dec. 19, I came away inspired and overwhelmed by his generosity. Our sons are both involved in scouting and we were both working at the local Food Bank, preparing and delivering food and gift packages for families in our community. I learned that he spent the previous day working there, too. On the surface it may not seem noteworthy that he put in two successive days with a charitable organization. However, he has been unemployed since last January. You can imagine the kinds of challenges he and his family have faced over the past year. Even though his wife is still employed, any family that loses one income for nearly a year is bound to be under considerable stress. Yet there he was, giving his time to make sure that others in our community would have food for their families.
Our society often focuses on financial transactions and financial contributions as measures of generosity. We tend to overlook and undervalue the contributions that people make with their unmonetized time and talents. I’m as guilty as anyone—over the past few weeks I’ve sent and received the usual “end-of-year” solicitations for monetary gifts to our programs and the charities that support our programs, but I didn’t send out a solicitation for volunteers to give of their time, intellect and skills. Every year we prepare a simple report for legislators and other decision-makers that spells out the monetary value of the leveraging we achieve with the appropriations we are granted, but we don’t report the value of the 4-H, Master Gardener, agricultural research and other volunteers who help to make our programs successful. We generate reports on the monetary value of gifts that are given to MSU Extension, 4-H, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and other entities, but we don’t compare the number of volunteer hours we generate to those of other units at Michigan State University.
Our programs are greatly enhanced by the work of thousands of volunteers. I, for one, need to do a better job of telling that story to those we work with and report to. Under Michigan’s current economic condition, it is even more important for us to demonstrate the value of MSUE by documenting not only the numbers, but also the lasting impacts of the volunteers who invest their time and talents in our mission. There are few measures more telling of our impacts than the scope and scale of investments that others make in the mission of MSUE. As we continue through our redesign process—and particularly our revisions to program planning and reporting—we need to keep this in mind: the most valuable gifts people give are those that are direct and personal, whether it is their time, money, thoughts or actions. I have my friend to thank for helping me to understand this in a deeper and more lasting way. And I know that his life’s work for others is something he will continue to invest, whether he receives compensation for it or not.
I want to thank all of the MSUE staff, faculty members, educators, volunteers and program participants for the contributions they make to MSUE’s mission, whether it is their time and talents or other resources. We’ve had a challenging year, but our challenges pale in comparison with those experienced by so many of our fellow Michigan residents. Thanks to all for investing in Michigan and in MSU Extension. I wish us all well in the new year.