Simple stories illustrating a moral or spiritual lesson about volunteering and service to others.

We post quotables by newest submissions first.

It seems that someone asked the great anthropologist Margaret Mead, "What is the first sign you look for, to tell you of an ancient civilization?" The interviewer had in mind a tool or article of clothing. Ms. Mead surprised him by answering, a "healed femur" (thigh bone, for those of you who didn't study biology).

When someone breaks a femur, they can't survive to hunt, fish or escape enemies unless they have help from someone else. Thus, a healed femur indicates that someone else helped that person, rather than abandoning them and saving themselves. Isn't that what we in philanthropy are all about? Healing femurs of one sort or another?


-- Unknown     Submitted by Rick Christ

A group of people are standing at a river bank and suddenly hear the cries of a baby. Shocked, they see an infant floating--drowning--in the water. One person immediately dives in to rescue the child. But as this is going on, yet another baby comes floating down the river, and then another! People continue to jump in to save the babies and then see that one person has started to walk away from the group still on shore. Accusingly they shout, "where are you going?" The response: "I'm going upstream to stop whoever's throwing babies into the river."

So, I guess we do need BOTH direct service AND advocacy volunteers!

-- Unknown     Submitted by From Susan Ellis, president of Energize, Inc. (Susan doesn't know the original source of this parable. If you do, please let us know!)

A woman was walking along a beach filled with starfish. As she walked, she would stoop down, pick one up at random, and throw it back into the ocean. A man came upon her and asked why she was bothering with throwing some back when there were so many--how could it possibly make a difference? She picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean, and said it made a difference to that one

-- Recited by Geraldine Warren at NCS Volunteer Recognition night.     Submitted by Erika Papendorf,

If your meeting room, your board room, or your office (take your pick) isn't a nursery for ideas, a rumpus room where seals frolic, forget it. Burn the table, lock the room, fire the clerks. You will rarely come up with any ideas worth entertaining. The full room with the heavy people trudging in with long faces to solve problems by beating them to death is very death itself. Serious confrontations rarely arrive at serious ends. Unless the people you meet with are fun loving kids out for a romp, tossing ideas like confetti, and letting the damn bits fall where they may, no spirit will ever rouse, no notion will ever birth, no love will be mentioned, no climax reached. You must swim at your meetings, you must jump for baskets, you must take hefty swings for great or missed drives, you must run and dive, you must fall and roll, and when the fun stops, get the hell out.

-- Ray Bradbury in a book called The Leader's Edge     Submitted by Submitted by Bridgett Chandler,

Entering a very cold, dark room, you are presented with the choice of a fireplace, a wood stove and a lantern. What would you light first? The match, of course. When working with volunteers, people needing services and the community or businesses, first the spark must be lit in you. If it isn't, how can you pass it on to others?

-- Unknown     Submitted by Submitted by Debra Banks at , Nonprofit Consultant. Actively involved with volunteer management and community work for almost 10 years in Southeast Arkansas.

My mother's favorite story. Don't know the source but I heard it thousands of times while I was growing up!:

A circuit preacher and his young son traveled the countryside on horseback. When they approached a small town the preacher would offer to preach a sermon at the small church in exchange for what the congregation could afford to pay. At one such small church, the preacher and his son entered the church and the preacher casually threw a quarter into the poor box.

After a fine sermon, one of the congregation stood and thanked the preacher and said, "We're a small church and we can afford to pay you only what's in the poor box." He opened the box and dropped the contents into the preacher's hand...a quarter. As the preacher and his son were riding away, the preacher was grumbling about the meager pay. The son listened for a bit and said "Dad, if you wanted more out, why didn't you put more in?"

We always get out of life (and volunteering) pretty much what we put into it!

-- Unknown     Submitted by Lee A. Barrett,, Coordinator of Volunteer Services for Lowcountry AIDS Services

In Korea, there is a legend about a native warrior who died and went to heaven. "Before I enter," he said to the gatekeeper, "I would like you to take me on a tour of hell." The gatekeeper found a guide to take the warrior to hell. When they got there, the warrior was astonished to see a great table piled high with every tasty food he could imagine - anything one could possibly want to eat or drink. The warrior then looked at the people. They were all starving. "How could this be?" he asked the guide. "Are they not allowed to eat?" "Oh yes, they can eat," said the guide "but they must use the chopsticks they are given. They are five feet long and they must hold them at the end. Just look at them. They miss their mouths every time!" "Enough," said the warrior, "This is hell, indeed! Please take me back to heaven."

In heaven, to his surprise, he saw a similar room, with a similar table loaded with all the same food. But, the people were in radiant health, happy and well-nourished. The warrior turned to the guide and said, "I see - no chopsticks here." The guide replied that yes, the people were still issued chopsticks and yes, they were still five feet long and that they still must be held at the end - but, the difference was that in heaven the people learned to feed each other.

-- Unknown     Submitted by Nancy Sutter

A French riddle for children illustrates the idea of  "exponential growth". I like to use this riddle to combat the myth that "there's plenty of time to act--I'll volunteer next year." Suppose you own a pond on which a water lily is growing. The lily plant doubles in size each day. If the plant were allowed to grow unchecked, it would completely cover the pond in 30 days, choking off all other forms of life in the water. For a long time the lily plant seems small, so you decide no to worry about it until it covers half the pond. On what day will that be? On the twenty-ninth day. You have just one day to act to save your pond.

-- Unknown     Submitted by Lynn Carroll, Volunteer Program Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy, PA

There were two angels sent to earth to walk as men for a time, one older . . .   one younger. After a long day they came upon a very nice home where they asked if they might spend the night and rest. The owner, a person of substantial means finally gave into the request and let them use the old cellar in the back of the property. It was cold and damp and as they prepared for sleep the older angel caused a minor miracle to be performed in repairing one wall that was degraded to the point of collapse. The younger angel asked "why did you do that for people that are obviously greedy and self indulgent?". The older simply replied "things are not always as they seem".

The next evening they came upon a small dwelling in the woods and upon inquiring found the farmer and his wife very accommodating . . .   to the point of requiring them to use their bed and share their meager meal as they appeared to be very tired and in need of rest. Upon leaving the next morning they noticed the farmer and his wife in the small side yard grieving over the death of their only cow.

As they walked down the road the younger angel became angry and asked, "How could you allow that to happen? Night before last you do good for a person that would barely lift a finger to help and last night you allow this poor but gentle farmer and his wife to loose something of such value." The older angel turned to the younger angel and said "the other night I noticed that the old cellar wall was barely holding back the riches of an old vault, filled with treasures and gold so I repaired it knowing that more of such finery for one such greedy person would not help others. Last night while we slept the angel of death came to take the farmer's wife. I convinced him to take the cow instead.

-- Unknown     Submitted by Brett Roper, Hollingsworth Companies, Tennessee, USA

Once upon a time, there existed 5 people; these five people's names were 'A', 'B', 'C', 'D', and 'E'. Day 1: On day one, the leader, whose name was 'Z', gave orders to 'A', 'B', 'C', 'D', and 'E' and upon giving orders, asked who would like to volunteer. The first to volunteer (for ease of explanation) was person A. Every time, person A volunteered, no matter what the task. The interesting thing was that on Day 1, 'A', 'B', 'C', 'D', and 'E' had equal knowledge and experience, but since A was the first to volunteer, A gained the first experience. Each person volunteered according to their letter ranking: A ahead of B, B ahead of C, C ahead of D, and D ahead of E. The rank was an indicator of their confidence. A was more confident than B, B more confident than C, etc. By day 20 or so, A was far ahead of E in experience and knowledge, and E had no idea why.
This parable actually reflects a lesson I learned in Air Force ROTC. In training, when the leader makes a command for a task to be done, all soldiers/cadets/personnel will eventually have to follow the command. The last person to volunteer winds up being the least experienced. Have the confidence to volunteer early!

-- Unknown     Submitted by Chris

One day an elephant saw a hummingbird lying on its back with its tiny feet up in the air. "What are you doing?" asked the elephant. The hummingbird replied, "I heard that the sky might fall today, and so I am ready to help hold it up, should it fall." The elephant laughed cruelly. "Do you really think," he said, "that those tiny feet could help hold up the sky?" The hummingbird kept his feet up in the air, intent on his purpose, as he replied, "Not alone. But each must do what he can. And this is what I can do."

-- Chinese Proverb     Submitted by Patrick Giddeons