According to the latest reports, those dismal unemployment figures we all saw splashed across the newspapers over the past several years are, at last, starting to drop. Folks are finally finding jobs.
But the numbers alone simply don't tell the whole story about the work being done in this busy nation of ours.
Of course, those who keep the government's records are only interested in tabulating the numbers of the workers earning a pay checks and staying off the unemployment lines.
But, through the years I've become more and more interested in the "un-paid" labor force that keeps this country humming.
In every corner of the nation, from big cities to tiny villages, men, women, teens and even kids are part of a massive army of volunteers filling needs as diverse as selling cookies, giving out food pantry supplies, taking reservations at the community little theaters, cleaning the cages at the local animal shelter and building Habitat homes.
March is a good time to honor such volunteers, since this 31-day month includes Girl Scout Week and has been designated National Youth Theater Month and American Red Cross Month.
I've had the great good fortune to volunteer with a number of interesting and worthwhile organizations through the years. And the experiences I've had, the folks I've met, have enriched me far more than I would have imagined. Through the years, I've worked with a long list of diverse groups including the Camp Fire Girls, the Girl Scouts, the Findley Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the Mayville Food Pantry, the Mayville Library, the Chautauqua Writers Center, the Peace River Center for Writers, the Punta Gorda Library and the St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy.
As every volunteer will tell you, I gained far more than I gave while helping at each of these outstanding organizations.
I was comparing experiences with my new friend, Phyllis, recently. She told me of a busy morning she spent working with the local food pantry.
When the doors of the pantry, housed at the local First Baptist Church, opened at 9 a.m., there was already a crowd waiting patiently for whatever help was available.
Phyllis reported the 20 volunteers on duty for the morning hustled to fill bags and boxes for those in line. The need in our little community was such that, in the three hours the pantry was open, the helpers passed out food to 80 families.
That kind of work leaves the volunteers tired, but so grateful for the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of their neighbors.
I remember watching my mother through the years, going quietly about the business of helping others. As a single mother, mom also held down a job to pay the bills and keep our home running, but she was never too busy to give of her time to any cause or any individual who needed it.
The news that our national unemployment figures are finally on the decline is a wonderful sign the economy is at last on the upswing. And it's a relief to see so many of our fellow Americans once again earning paychecks and getting back on their feet.
But as good as the picture is, I continue to take great pride in living in a country where so many are willing to donate their time to help their neighbors in efforts large and small.