I always find it interesting to read magazines and newspapers the first two or three days of the new year. Typically, these are slow news days, and more often than not, there are articles upon articles about New Year’s resolutions, how to make changes stick and, most importantly, how to take off those extra holiday pounds.
Frequently, the focus is about changes individuals can make to improve their own lives — lose weight, exercise regularly, stop smoking — all good and healthy practices. But I find my eye wandering to what is occasionally at the end of the list, suggestions about how to give back to the community.
I’ve written in other columns about how important it is to participate in the community by being an active citizen, by supporting local organizations that do good work, by teaching your children to be respectful and responsible. But I recently have been delighted and surprised to see the work of those who go the extra mile in giving to the community highlighted in some local media outlets.
In both the CDT and Town & Gown, the members of the volunteer staff of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center have been profiled. The CDT also ran a profile of a young woman who works for the resource center but who volunteers a substantial amount of time at another local organization. All these folks are either graduate students or work full time in addition to their volunteer work. And the volunteer work they do — for us and for other organizations — requires a significant amount of training, time and emotional energy to do well.
This is not the occasional envelope stuffing, as important as that is. These volunteers do the work of the organization: in our case, providing crisis counseling and support to victims of domestic and sexual violence, and doing it without compensation.
It is no exaggeration to say that for many of the nonprofit social service agencies in our community, the work could not be done without the time and energy supplied by volunteers. At the resource center, for example, volunteer counselors and advocates provide more than 95 percent of our off-hours hotline coverage.
A victim of sexual or domestic violence who calls in the middle of the night needing assistance with a protection from abuse order or who needs to be met at the hospital for a rape exam first hears the voice of a volunteer who is ready to respond to the need. Not only at the resource center, but throughout our community, volunteers are critical.
The supportive person on the other end of the Community Help Center hotline is a volunteer. The person making and delivering meals to the homebound is a volunteer. The voice on public radio often is the voice of a volunteer. The people visiting agencies and making decisions about how to distribute community funds through the United Way are volunteers. The list of needs and opportunities is almost endless.
It has been said that if you want something done, ask a busy person. And it is often true that those who already are committed to their communities in myriad ways are the ones who find time to do one more thing. But a healthy community depends on more than just a few people offering their time, talents and treasure.
Healthy communities have significant numbers of people involved in significant ways to do the work that no one person or no one group can do alone.
There are many opportunities out there, and every member of our community can find a place where his or her gifts and skills will be utilized appropriately. In fact, the Community Help Center serves as a “volunteer clearinghouse” and can help you find the right match for your gifts and skills. You can contact the Community Help Center at 234-8222.
There is a group out there that needs what you have to offer. So this new year, don’t just think about how to get fit, find the place where you fit. You and your community will be healthier for it.
Anne K. Ard is the executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, which provides services to victims of domestic and sexual violence and has been an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1981. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.