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Providing a Helping Hand
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Freedom Magazine, published by the Church of Scientology

Providing a Helping Hand

The Scientology Volunteer Ministers of Clearwater present $3,300 check to the Clearwater Fire Department Honor Guard, represented by coordinator Doug Swartz (center behind check). The department had been short on uniforms when twice as many people as expected joined the Honor Guard. The Volunteer Ministers raised the funds so that the new ceremonial unit could complete their uniforms with blue, double-breasted jackets with brass buttons.

Community Response

Having teams of volunteers available and able to help in times of crisis is a benefit to any community, which is why Volunteer Ministers often work closely with relief organizations such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

In Clearwater, a team of local Volunteer Ministers recently joined the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program to receive training. Aware that any major disaster would severely overtax existing police, fire and medical services, CERT trains community volunteers who can assist police and rescue agencies when called upon to do so.

"In the event of a major emergency, rescue personnel can't respond to everyone," said Elaine Lewis, a Clearwater Fire and Rescue Public Education Specialist who trains CERT volunteers. "So the idea is to get trained CERT volunteers to take care of any areas that emergency staff cannot reach."

There are currently 140 trained CERT volunteers in Clearwater, 47 of whom are also Volunteer Ministers.

"Thankfully, we've not had a major emergency in this area," said Lewis. "But what I've observed is that the Volunteer Ministers are eager to learn and come to the table with skills that will be useful in any emergency."

Worldwide Volunteerism

At left, Sarah Gorgone (standing, center) coordinates activities of fellow Scientology Volunteer Ministers in Clearwater.
The Volunteer Minister Program was developed in 1976 by Scientology religion founder L. Ron Hubbard. Returning to New York City after a few years' absence, he was startled to find the once-vital city undermined by crime, drugs and immorality, as in a rapidly growing number of cities worldwide. He observed that crime was escalating in direct proportion to the decline of religious influence in society, and that only the spiritual values found in religion are capable of exerting a positive influence strong enough to bring real change. The Volunteer Minister program was developed from these observations — a Volunteer Minister being defined as, "a person who helps his fellow man on a volunteer basis by restoring purpose, truth and spiritual values to the lives of others."

While Volunteer Ministers have been helping in all aspects of living, they have gained recognition internationally for their fast and able response in times of emergency or disaster.

For example, when torrential rains brought floods and mud slides to Venezuela in 1999, leaving thousands dead and tens of thousands homeless, Volunteer Ministers worked closely with the National Director for Civil Defense and the Army National Director for Instruction and Operation, helping to provide more than two tons of food and supplies to survivors and giving more than 3,000 assists.

When volcano Popocatepetl erupted 40 miles from Mexico City in March 2001, more than 40,000 people fled their homes. Working under the authority of the zonal Director of Civil Protection, head of disaster relief in that area, Volunteer Ministers visited the shelters to provide thousands of hours of assists.

When brush fires swept through regions of Arizona and Colorado in 2002, Volunteer Ministers first helped evacuate residents. In Arizona, as official members of the Arizona Outreach Volunteers, they also helped with logistics, organization and cleanup, and gave assists to firefighters and those who had lost their homes.

And when Hurricane Lili knocked out power lines throughout Lafayette, Louisiana, in October 2002, Volunteer Ministers contacted residents who had lost power and asked them to donate perishable food to help feed the thousands of linemen and other city workers laboring around the clock to restore power. Through this initiative, the volunteers were able to deliver more than 2,500 meals.

The Volunteer Ministers have responded to scores more disasters, natural and man-made, in the United States — from the Oklahoma City federal building bombing to Florida's Hurricane Andrew. They have also responded worldwide to events from the eruption of volcano Nyiragongo in The Congo, to the hostage crisis at the hands of Chechen rebels in late 2002.

Solutions to the Problems of Living

Assists are only one of the tools a Volunteer Minister uses to help others. He uses a wide variety of other skills such as helping a child with a learning difficulty in school or, as a few Volunteer Ministers have done, helping an entire nation to improve its educational system. His training enables the Volunteer Minister to help resolve a marital upset, bring an end to conflict, help a colleague to get better organized in life; he in fact can apply what he knows to better virtually any situation he might run into.

The simple but workable solutions are available to anyone who wishes to learn how to help others. Literature describing these techniques and showing how to use them is available from any Church of Scientology.

Volunteer Ministers can also be found every Sunday in Clearwater at Wagonwheel Flea Market, where they provide assists and information on the program.

"Volunteer Ministers are not only able to help in times of emergency," said Gorgone. "But they can help a person improve any area of his life, no matter what problems exist. We really want to share what we know with everyone."

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