Volunteerism forum draws hundreds to campus

Feb. 1, 2001 7:44 p.m.

deep commitment to volunteerism stands as a critical part of our democracy, one that burgeoning nations often fail to replicate, New Jersey Secretary of State DeForest "Buster" Soaries told more than 230 community leaders who attended a conference at Princeton University Thursday night.

"Service is the ultimate expression of power," Soaries said during his keynote address in Dodds Auditorium. "Ultimately, history will measure us by our capacity to be inclusive in the great benefits we enjoy," he said. "Rather than considering volunteerism as a noble yet sideline activity, what is critical to our future is passing this on to our next generation as being core and central to who we are."

Co-hosted by the University's Office of Community and State Affairs and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and convened by Marge Smith, chair of the Human Services Commission of Princeton, the annual "Community Works" conference encourages non-profit professionals from throughout Mercer County to network and solve problems. Smith said the group identified fundraising, working with volunteers effectively and staff retention as ongoing challenges. But state and university officials praised participants for their daily work, despite such dilemmas.

"There is no greater gift that one can give than volunteerism," Karen Woodbridge, associate director of community and state affairs and a workshop leader, said before introducing Soaries.

Soaries, a Baptist minister, began his address by explaining the Christian concept of "the rapture" -- a day when "good" people would disappear from the earth, leaving others behind -- and asking the audience to imagine what the nation would be like if volunteers suddenly disappeared.

"America is much more than a democratic society that experiences, every season, a smooth transition of power," Soaries said. In America, "one cannot be fully human unless one contributes to at least one other person," he concluded. "It is through your work that history will judge us."

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601