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Book Review: Off to Serve by Richard Galentino, illustrated by Paolina Bertolini Grudina

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How deeply do you feel the need to serve? Some people find service to others is a driving force in their lives and couldn’t imagine not becoming involved and helping. Others don’t give it a second thought. When individuals come from a background in which service is not emphasized, they may never consider it. Hence, Off to Serve, written by Richard Galentino, is the book to give as a graduation gift.

Encouraging participation in the global volunteer service movement, Off to Serve is wittily illustrated by Paolina Bertolini Grudina. Her drawings of a cool cat graduate who conducts a tour through volunteerism entertain while illustrating Galentino’s poetry and prose.

Off to Serve looks very much like a children’s storybook (it wouldn’t hurt to share the contents with kids) and sections of it are written in kidlit-like verse. Given the choice, I’d prefer the prose — it is easier to read than the uneven meter used in the rhyming sections.

Galentino gives the reader reasons to volunteer and to try and make a difference in the world, perhaps one life at a time. He does not glorify the working conditions, nor does he paint a rose-colored picture of the various situations that a volunteer might experience. He does emphasize the importance and rewards of volunteering, and focuses on a variety of opportunities. At offtoserve.org, he explains that volunteering does not have to be a lifetime commitment; defer the temptations of big business for a year or give up a few weekends. As many people already know,  countless volunteers are working in their own backyards and living rooms.

A light tone and humorous pictures make Off to Serve a fitting way to introduce the concept of volunteering to those who may not have considered it. For some, the desire to “make it big” will be stronger than the lure of working hard  in uncomfortable places just to make the world a more tolerable place. Others, however, might react with “Hey, I never thought of that,” or “I always wished there was something I could do about…”

Richard Galentino, director of the Medical Volunteer Program for the Catholic Medical Mission Board, is a speaker who regularly addresses topics of national and international service. Three years teaching in Tanzania fueled his interest in the global volunteer movement.

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