November 27, 2000
Efforts of volunteers have immeasurable effects
by Harold A. Schaitberger
As general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, I know how often fire fighters and emergency medical personnel enter into potentially lethal situations to save the lives of others.
They do so willingly and wholeheartedly, aware of the risks involved. They take tremendous pride and satisfaction in knowing that IAFF members protect about 80 percent of the lives and property in the United States.
There are others who provide help ‹ who even save lives -‹ and they don't necessarily do so by battling disaster and smoke and flame.
I'm talking about caring citizens who contribute their time and energy to support charitable causes ‹ causes like the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), which is dedicated to defeating neuromuscular diseases.
Without volunteers assisting in communities across the country, MDA couldn't accomplish nearly as much as it does.
These caring folks pitch in to help MDA in any number of ways: by organizing special fund-raising events such as bake sales, car washes and volleyball tournaments; by serving as counselors and helping kids with muscular dystrophy have a wonderful time at MDA summer camp; by working behind the scenes at MDA's Labor Day weekend Telethon; and in many other ways that have a significant and lasting impact on the lives of "Jerry's Kids" both young and old.
Across the country, adults and children served by MDA are grateful to those who willingly help out year-round. MDA depends on its army of some 2 million volunteers who can be counted on to give their time and talents when and where they're most needed.
I know that fire fighters are tremendously proud to be among that number - through our Fill-the-Boot campaign, volunteer hours at MDA summer camps and many other activities.
In addition to the gratitude of the organizations and people who are helped, getting involved and helping others has many other benefits. It's social. It's fun. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of being a part of something larger than yourself.
This time of year when we're reminded to be thankful for the blessings we have, individuals and families served by MDA are giving thanks for the fire fighters and other compassionate people who pitch in to help others.
These volunteers touch so many lives: young parents who must face the possibility of losing a 2-year-old child to spinal muscular atrophy... teen-agers approaching the time when they need to be fitted with motorized wheelchairs due to Duchenne muscular dystrophy ... fathers with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) who worry that they'll never live to see their children graduate from high school. Those are among the toughest challenges that exist, but the upside is knowing that we can make a difference.
Supporting MDA mean helping to keep its clinic and camp programs running ‹ programs that make a tremendous difference in quality of life for tens of thousands of families.
Supporting MDA also means keeping the research moving forward at breakneck speed. It's impossible to overstate the importance of this. For these families, research means hope for a day when new medical answers will be found, and the destructive effects of neuromuscular diseases will be eliminated forever.
The IAFF has served as a national sponsor of MDA since 1954 and raised over $150 million to help MDA, including $14 million during this last year alone.
We'll continue to do our part. How about you? If you're already involved in a worthy cause, don't ever forget that your efforts have an immeasurable effect.
If you're not, give it a try. Whatever the time of year, I can guarantee you'll feel thankful you did.
Harold A. Schaitberger, who lives near Washington D.C., is general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, an AFL-CIO-affiliated labor union representing more than 240,000 professional fire fighters and emergency medical personnel in the United States and Canada. He is a national vice president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.