Tennessee has had a few nicknames in its history, but the one that stuck was “The Volunteer State.” According to several sources on the internet, that nickname originated with the War of 1812 because thousands of volunteer soldiers from Tennessee played a large role, especially in the Battle of New Orleans.

The moniker was reinforced and the reputation secured when the Secretary of State asked for 2,800 volunteers from Tennessee during the Mexican War. He got 30,000. Our state university mascot is a volunteer. The spirit of giving time to a good cause is a common one in Tennessee and is evidenced in Greene County as well.

I’ve been on both the giving and the receiving end of the efforts of volunteers. I’ve been on boards of non-profits and observed this giving spirit of many of our folks and it makes my heart happy to know that I live, work, and thrive among such generous souls. I’m proud to be from the Volunteer State.

The state of the volunteer, however, is a little rocky right now, and that’s not a reference to “Rocky Top.” The coronavirus has stifled many efforts and events since erupting last March. Fundraising events that make so many charitable projects possible have had to be postponed, attempted online, or outright canceled.

Civic club meetings where so many community enhancing efforts are focused have had their schedules disrupted. Who knew that watching the opening of “The Brady Bunch” was ultimately training us for future meetings?

These volunteers are still soldiering on, though. They’re coming up with innovative ideas and trying to salvage what they can. And it’s times like these where we see just how much impact these hard-working, time-giving people have on our community, because it becomes obvious just how much they do.

Times like these also illustrate how little some of our community members realize and appreciate those efforts, and unfortunately some of them become very vocal about their dissatisfaction when things are disrupted. Folks who have never helped organize, staff, or fund a project or event take to the internet and social media to criticize the efforts that are being made in spite of the coronavirus.

Some folks have been very critical of the cancelling of some community events, stating that the event should be held and then they could decide whether it was prudent to attend. While that sounds reasonable on its surface, it ignores the choice of the people who make the event happen. Those folks have the right to decide whether to participate as well, and without them, there’s no event.

The heart of our community is the efforts of all of our volunteers. Because of our neighbors who are willing to give so generously of their time, we have scholarships for students, holiday decorations, a county fair, and various holiday events.

Volunteers provide cultural opportunities for both entertainment and participation in music, theatre, dance, and art. They provide support for things like the library, the community’s museum, and the Humane Society. They provide education through organizations like Rural Resources, Scouts, the Boys & Girls Club, and the 4-H Center.

Efforts of volunteers support child abuse prevention and treatment, provide eyeglasses, food, and wood for heating. They provide Thanksgiving dinners, school supplies, and even grandparents. They help raise money for organizations like United Way who then assist organizations that make our community better.

Our volunteering neighbors hear our comments, both good and bad. They do understand that some of the negativity that abounds is an emotional response to stress caused by circumstances that are out of our control. Folks are frustrated and sometimes afraid in our current condition and they lash out. It’s a human response, and so is the disappointment that comes with feeling unappreciated.

It’s Thanksgiving week. This year I’m even more thankful I live in a place where so many people have that generous volunteer spirit. I’m grateful for civic organizations like the Exchange Club, Kiwanis, Rotary, Optimist, and community Ruritans. I’m thankful for the Women’s Club, the George Clem Multicultural Alliance, all the youth organizations, and non-profit boards like the County Fair. I’m glad organizations like the Greeneville Theatre Guild, Arts Outreach at Tusculum University, and the Arts Council exist, as well as the Museum and Main Street: Greeneville and so many more that I don’t have the space to mention.

The state of the volunteer in these times is frustration, but it’s tempered with a bit of optimism. They are still making plans for projects and events that will take place when it’s deemed safer to do so. I can’t wait!

Greeneville native Paige Mengel is a Tusculum College alumna, CPA, arts admirer and Business Coordinator of Greeneville Theatre Guild. A Look Around is published every other Wednesday in Accent. Contact Paige at paigemengel@gmail.com.

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