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The volunteerism is a way for the children to begin to explore the options that are out there for a placement, and even more so, a way for the leaders of the community to see where the children's aptitudes lie. If a child seems to do well caring for the elderly, then they will probably be given the placement of caregiver.
As for the second part of the question, I would say that is was believable that people would live in the community and remain ignorant of what release really meant. Jonas pictures it as a sort of quiet, happy occasion where the person just "goes away" to "elsewhere." People just accept that release happens, and even the people who perform the release ceremony believe that they are just doing what is necessary and normal practice. After all, it is upsetting and shocking when someone dies before their "time" -- such as when young Caleb died. The people in Jonas' community are accepting of release and are not shocked by it, because it is the norm, and it appears to be gentle and pain-free.
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