In praise of the volunteer

Published 12:11 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Over 50 Los Angeles fires set over a three-day span. Over $3 million in damage to homes and businesses. Sheriff’s and police officers, with little to go on, scrambled to find the perpetrator of the arson spree. They caught him — a 24-year-old German national claiming to hate America. In the days after Harry Burkhart was arrested, the scope of his fiery crimes became apparent as law enforcement officials in both Vancouver, Canada and in Germany, recognized Burkhart.

But the fact that Burkhart’s crimes crossed borders, and oceans, is much less interesting than another player in the saga: the man who brought Burkhart in, stopping an international crime spree.

He’s a young real estate lawyer named Shervin Lalezary; a Muslim, born in Iran but moved with his family to the U.S. 25 years ago. For 20 hours a month, Lalezary puts his life on the line as a reserve sheriff’s deputy for the whopping salary of $1 a year. And during the press conferences after Burkhart’s arrest, Lalezary deflected praise, refusing to take credit for bringing in the worst arsonist ever known to L.A.

L.A. County Sheriff’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, had this to say about Lalezary: “He believes in the community service aspects of the reserve deputy … he doesn’t want to talk about himself because he believes he’s part and parcel of a larger effort.”

The larger effort of which Whitmore speaks provides greater well-being to a community. Every day we walk past people, stand next to them in line at Food Lion, sit beside them at church, who just as silently and humbly, and with just as little pay, go about contributing to the well-being of our community. They teach adults to read and feed those with no food. They keep our river clean. They put out fires in the middle of the night, when they have to go to work the next day. They give us art. They educate, provide and shelter.

They do.

Volunteers make our lives better in a thousand unspoken ways. Take some time this week to thank a volunteer.