Off Script: Be the change in our community

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I’m not sure when or where my passion to volunteer first took root. In elementary school, I volunteered to help deliver lunches and to be a Conflict Manager. In high school, I looked forward to the annual Doug Baldridge Work Day. In college, I chose a sorority whose core mission was to help others. The influence of volunteer and community service in our town is strong. I could go on and on with a list of folks whom I have watched as I grew up to even now who have continued to serve. They serve on a board, put together an event, or are always was out there helping.  Now that I am a parent, I have reflected on the things my parents and friends’ parents did that involved our local youth or our class. It seemed like extra work at the time, and now I see what a priceless gift it was to us. Those who know me have seen me wear a variety of hats in the community. My husband likes to point out my coffee mug that says “Stop me before I volunteer again” when he thinks I might be heading to a meeting where I will indeed volunteer in some capacity. I volunteer because I like to help people, because I believe in the cause, and because I like to be social and get to know people. But volunteering isn’t about me, it’s about helping my community and taking action to make a difference for those who need a helping hand. Some folks shrink back at the word “volunteer” for a number of reasons. “Not enough time to commit” is usually the number one reason I have seen, followed by “not enough experience to take on the role.” I was lucky enough to attend a volunteer workshop when I was serving as the vice president for the Winters Friends of the Library. It helped me to open my eyes to all of the different levels of volunteering and how I could still stay involved with an organization without having to sit on multiple boards. There are Volunteer Leaders who help to coordinate, delegate and organize. They’re often the folks who sit on a board of directors or head up a committee. They keep the big picture and have a big goal in mind. There are also Worker Bees who help to set up, clean up, take on specific tasks and requests for help. They’re often baking cupcakes or cookies, sharing a post on social media for an organization they care about, or working a booth or table. It takes all types of volunteers to not only help make events happen, but to also help keep organizations running smoothly. I have to pick and choose what type of volunteer I am going to be based on: What is the ask? What time of the year is it? Are my children involved in a lot of extracurriculars? and, How many other things have I already committed to? I learned the hard way what my volunteering limits look like. But I haven’t allowed it to impact how often I volunteer. Instead, it has helped me to better gauge what my abilities and limitations are when it comes to volunteering. I struggled with a fear of letting the community down by saying, “No.” Instead, I learned to say, “Here is what I can do right now,” and have been able to have a better impact. I can bake cupcakes for the Winters Music Boosters, help with website updates for the Winters Combined PTA, share a personal testimony for Winters Friends of the Library — and it was all helpful without me having to commit to something bigger than I was able to handle. Filling board and committee chair positions seems to be a current struggle for some local nonprofits. Some folks have been serving in the same capacity for a number of years and are burning out. Other organizations have seen a shift in their normal flow of incoming volunteers and are struggling to bring in new Volunteer Leaders. I’ve seen it first-hand on the current boards I hold a position on, and I have had others reach out to me asking for help to network the request for help. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily related to COVID, but the pandemic hasn’t helped matters. It has made recruiting and retaining volunteers challenging. If you are new to town or interested in learning more about how you can get involved with a local nonprofit or local event planning committee, I encourage you to do a little homework on what is available in our town. There is something for everyone, and they could all use volunteers to help keep the organization running to help out with specific events and campaigns. If you are part of a local nonprofit organization and are in need of volunteers, I encourage you to reach out to me for more information on how you can utilize the Express to get support and find new volunteers. I created some helpful How-To Tutorials on writing press releases, Op-Ed columns and Letters to the Editor. If you are hesitant about volunteering, I leave you with this bit of advice: Find something you are passionate about and start there. Elizabeth Andrews, a Habitat for Humanity Team Leader, said it best with, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.” Start small or jump in big — it’s up to you. Do what you are able to with the availability you have now, and then follow up again when you have more availability. Do it because you want to help make a difference and help our community thrive.

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