Communities can exist without volunteers, but who would want to be part of a community that had no rural fire departments or youth sports?
There would be no arts if there were no patrons. There would be no youth mentoring. Hospitals would be hard pressed to provide gift shops. Nonprofits would be unable to generate the financial support they need to survive.
Every year the United Way asks our community to reflect on volunteers through the awarding of the Macsherry Family Community Spirit Awards. In Jefferson County this year’s recipients are Tops Family Markets and Heather White.
Heather has volunteered in enough ways to be 10 people. But during our United Way kickoff luncheon on Sept. 13, she asked the 150 people in the audience to once again consider the always provocative question: Who is my neighbor?
Through First Presbyterian Church, many north country people have traveled to Malawi to support the Women of Grace Widows Fund. Those of us who have participated in this project have had to come to grips with that very question again and again.
But Heather brought an interesting perspective to the question, using the Thousand Islands to make her point.
Here is an excerpt of her comments:
“Thank you to Margot McGorman
for this nomination, to Mr. Richard Macsherry and his family, and the United Way for all you do.
I was very lucky to be taught by my mother, Shirley, a few concepts I use to this day: the power of a few; change can be made with just ‘a pocket full of change’; and giving brings joy, pure joy.
I would partake in community projects solo: walking dogs and cleaning cages at the SPCA, visiting at the Westchester County Home for the Elderly, and cleaning the Saw Mill River Parkway and bringing the glass and cans to a recycle center. Mom was always ready with a community service plan. If I ever stated I was bored … off I went to help out.
I was 8 years old the first time I collected change, then donated it to Save the Trees. I was proud of the wall certificate they sent me, feeling as if ‘little me’ might actually be able to help. Years later I would see the same look of pride on the faces of young students at Sherman Elementary School when we would collect change for the zoo or a school in Africa. Young children who often feel they have NO control over their own situation love to collect coins and feel they have the ability to make a change. Change adds up quickly! Change can make a difference in many projects!
I have been asked, ‘Why Africa? You do enough at home.’
Helping here should not exclude one from helping abroad. Like we say in the Thousands Islands: WE ARE ALL CONNECTED AS THE ISLANDS ARE CONNECTED UNDER THE RIVER.
Malawi, Africa is home to the many friends I have made there since 2007. To those who ask WHY I say, ‘Wouldn’t you help a friend in need?’ Your neighbor doesn’t necessarily live right next door. From working with widows or teachers and students, we are helping a fledgling democracy and education system. The world is easy to travel, getting smaller with each passing year. Every person that we help become self-sufficient or every child we teach to read we are making the world more productive, safer, and environmentally sound.
What keeps me returning to Malawi time after time?
Finese — the 80-year-old who after sleeping in a bed given to her by the Widows’ Fund said, ‘I can die tonight for I have slept a night up off the damp, dirt floor.’
Young children who were gathered around the four-year-old I saw die in 2010 that led my husband and I to open the feeding station in Mzenga.
The soccer team who just a few weeks ago I taught how to use the air pump to the soccer ball we had just given them — joy, pure joy!
I look out at the people gathered here today and know this award is not about me, it’s about all of you. I see a friend who helps her family, extended family, and the families of the Urban Mission. I see another dear friend who uses youth theatre to show her students how to give back to the community. I see many women who gather with me each month to listen, learn and give.
I see those who help children be in touch with nature and give many children their first hike in the woods or ride in a boat enriching their lives. I see women who help women in Malawi, I see people who are helping the children of Malawi to hold their very first book in their own two hands.
Every table here is filled with those that help our community or reach their arms around the world. I am just thankful to be a small part of this loving community, thank you for all you do. Keep finding your joy in giving and keep collecting your loose change.’