Whether you call it volunteering , serving the community or simply being neighborly, the tradition of helping others has always been an integral part of life in America.

From the time of the earliest settlers, people have come together to help meet basic human needs. Farmers helped each other gather crops and build barns. Concerned parents supplied logs, stone bricks and labor to build schools for their children. Religious congregations helped to build their places of worship and then ministered those in need in their communities. Ethnic groups banded together for mutual support and socialization.

Volunteerism has been a strong tradition in Schuylkill County. Generation after generation, some families serve proudly in their community's volunteer fire companies. Many of the service clubs, such as the Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks and others, have long histories of helping their communities. Some have recently established successful youth clubs in the area high schools, encouraging teens to get involved in tackling problems on their own, or working with their adult counterparts to make their communities better places to live.

Volunteers are also in abundance coaching sports teams and advising religious-based youth groups. They help at soup kitchens and food pantries and they tutor children and illiterate adults. Some visit our elderly citizens or deliver Meals on Wheels and others organize fund-raisers for nonprofit organizations, or for a family struggling with a devastating illness or fire. In fact, anywhere there is a need in the community, volunteers have stepped in to lend a hand - and continue to do so.

It is impossible to count the number of people who volunteer in Schuylkill County. The depth and breadth of this volunteer activity earned Schuylkill County one of ten National Make a Difference Day Award for participation in 1999, and an Encore Award for 2000. Organizers estimate that in the eight years between 1996 and 2003, more than 400 groups and individuals completed more than 900 projects for Make A Difference Day. In the process, they made life better for thousands of their fellow residents.

Volunteering - or community service has become a requirement for graduation from some of the county's high schools. Minersville Area, North Schuylkill, Shenandoah Valley, Schuylkill Haven Area, Marian and Nativity BVM High Schools require it. Other schools encourage members of the National Honor Society, service clubs or other groups to volunteer in their communities.