Area volunteers sacrifice time, service for the public good
BRATTLEBORO -- The world watched in amazement as ordinary citizens rushed to the aid of complete strangers after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15.
The blasts killed three and injured more than 200 others and the mass media swarmed with stories of volunteers -- medical and otherwise -- who ran toward imminent danger to assist those affected.
It seems somewhat fitting that, several days later, it is now National Volunteer Week in the United States and there are numerous organizations throughout Windham County that want to recognize the individuals that donate their time and energy to helping others.
Laura Schairbaum, the volunteer coordinator at United Way of Windham County, told the Reformer her volunteers have spent a lot of time helping with the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene, which took an unusual path up the East Coast and wreaked havoc on parts of Vermont in August 2011. She said her volunteers have worked with The Rotary Club, AmeriCorps and several church groups to assist in tearing down damaged homes, cleaning houses, building new ones and clean up debris.
Schairbaum also said another AmeriCorps group is coming for two weeks, beginning April 29.
"My favorite part of the job is that you really get to bring out the best in people and put people in touch with those who have time to give," she said. "Volunteers care about their community and they get to feel like they're contributing."
Schairbaum said she has been volunteering for a while and she is glad to see it emphasized in the school system, saying some schools even make volunteering a graduation requirement.
The United Way will also host an adult dental care day on Saturday, May 4. At least 10 volunteers will help with set-up, transport and intake and area dentists will provide free care for Windham County residents that are 18 or older and do not have the ability to pay for dental care.
Lew Teich has been a volunteer with Rescue, Inc. in Brattleboro since 1980. He said the idea of lending his time came soon after he moved to Vermont (coincidentally from Brookline, Mass., to Brookline, Vt.) and his home suffered a chimney fire.
"It all could have burned down pretty easily," he said, adding that the NewBrook Fire and Rescue Department saved the day. Teich said he was so impressed with what he saw that he joined the department, thinking it would also be a great way to get to know the community.
A professional woodworker, he sometimes missed out on calls because he would be on a job in another town, so he joined Rescue, Inc. (which serves 21 towns in three states) to avoid losing the valuable knowledge he had acquired as a volunteer. He eventually moved from Brookline to Brattleboro, and is now closer to the Rescue, Inc. station at 541 Canal St. Teich said he is now an advanced emergency medical technician, senior member of the organization's technical team and one of its trustees.
He said he frequently encourages those he meets to consider volunteering in some way, shape or form. He said volunteering will help any organization's bottom line because of the free labor and all volunteers will get more than money out of their work.
"That's the amazing thing about this area -- so many people want to give back their community," Teich said. "It's a good, fun, vibrant community to be a part of."
Rachel Laliberte is another advanced EMT for Rescue, Inc. A resident of Grafton, she started the process of becoming an EMT in her own town but said there aren't many emergency calls there. This prompted her to volunteer at Rescue, Inc. about four years ago.
"It really became a weekly practice for me. I didn't feel like a volunteer -- I felt like a part of the crew," she told the Reformer, adding that joining the organization just seemed like a natural progression. "I feel like everyone else, except I don't get paid."
Laliberte said it's never about the money with volunteers, who sacrifice their time for the benefit of others and do so without expecting a paycheck.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, the rate of volunteerism declined by 0.3 percentage point to 26.5 percent for the year ending in September 2012. About 64.5 million people volunteered through, or for, an organization at least once between September 2011 and September 2012. That decline in the volunteer rate in 2012, however, followed an increase of half a percentage point in 2011.
Women also continued to volunteer at a higher rate than did men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographics, the survey found.
The Our Place Drop-In Center in Bellows Falls has at least 18 volunteers at this time and they handle everything from working in the garden, to stocking shelves, to cooking meals and cleaning windows.
"We wouldn't be able to operate without our volunteers," said operations coordinator Amanda Sabo, one of the drop-in center's four paid employees. "It's very refreshing and it's very heart-warming to see people that want to help other people."
Sabo said there is always a steady flow of volunteers and there is now someone who comes in every Thursday to vacuum for free.
Nanci Leitch, the director of communication and development at Youth Services in Brattleboro, said her organization has about 200 volunteers at any one time.
Volunteerism, she said, has a strong connection with Youth Services, which was founded by volunteers in 1972.
Leitch said there are numerous ways to lend one's time, including through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She said one of the easiest ways to volunteer is to meet for two hours a month on a panel that reviews juvenile delinquent cases. Some of the volunteer programs even have preliminary applications online at http://youthservicesinc.org/help-change-lives/volunteer.html.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.
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