Margaret Nelson: View From the River – The gift of volunteers

Margaret Nelson

Margaret Nelson COURTESY PHOTO

Published: 04-12-2024 8:31 AM

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month. So let’s talk about the wonderful gift of volunteers.

The River Center’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program just ended for 2024. This year, 11 IRS certified volunteer tax-preparers completed over 325 tax returns at The River Center. An additional 10 volunteers acted as greeters for each tax session, welcoming taxpayers, explaining the process to them and making sure they have everything needed to meet with the tax-preparers. This program could not happen without these wonderful volunteers. We are so grateful to them all.

Why do people volunteer? I asked Tina Kriebel why she volunteers at The River Center. Tina has been volunteering longer than I have been here, which is a long time. She was on the board of trustees for many years and when she rolled off the board, she became our volunteer coordinator – as a volunteer. She knows a lot about volunteering, both as a volunteer herself, and as a recruiter of volunteers.

Tina tells me she volunteers because she likes being involved in the community and to know that her energy and skills are being applied to make the community stronger. She adds that it feels good to give. And a side benefit has been that through her and Greg’s volunteering, they have given a positive example for their boys. As a volunteer coordinator, Tina likes connecting people with each other and with things that they find rewarding. She has found that so many things are possible if everyone helps a little.

Mandy Sliver, is also a former board member, tax-preparer and another all-round River Center volunteer. She volunteers because she loves belonging to a community, and volunteering has opened her life up to new communities of shared interests, mission, and purpose. She has met most of her longtime friends through volunteering and has new skills and connections that she can rely on if needed.

A good reason to volunteer is to meet new people or be with people you already know, building these connections that Tina and Mandy mentioned. It might be a fun afternoon sorting donated clothing for the Community Closet or volunteering at any number of our local food pantries. It might be filling food boxes for End 68 Hours of Hunger or Got Lunch. Others call seniors who are home alone during storms through Monadnock at Home. Some volunteer activities involve being with one or two people such as being a volunteer driver for CVTC. Some involve lots of people like volunteering to help with the Children and the Arts festival (May 18 -- mark it on your calendar).

Organizations benefit from volunteers because they bring their unique skills and interests with them, enabling the programs to be more expansive than if they just relied on the talents of the staff. Volunteers at Avenue A in Antrim bring their woodworking skills. At The River Center, we have Wood Bank volunteers who love to bring their chainsaws and operate the splitter, a skill that yours truly does not have. Some volunteers stay home and knit beautiful blankets for Project Linus.

Not-for-profit organizations operate largely on donations from individuals, businesses and foundations. Keeping the costs down is a priority for all concerned and volunteers help with that.

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I asked Tina and Mandy what they want you know about volunteering. Tina says, “It’s not hard. There is a volunteer opportunity for everyone, every skill and every amount of time. There are one-time small jobs and weekly commitment needs. Find an organization that does projects or service that you support and offer what you can.” Mandy adds, “It’s not a sacrifice to volunteer. If you choose a volunteer opportunity that you are passionate about and want to learn more about, you can get a free education!”

If you are interested in volunteering, The River Center has various opportunities from serving on the Board of Trustees, chopping firewood, preparing taxes, picking up the recycling, being an extra pair of hands for family programs, or helping with mailings. And beyond The River Center, there are many organizations looking for help. Ask around to see how you can volunteer and give back to this community. You will be glad you did.

So this Volunteer Appreciation Month, let’s say thank you to those who give their time and their skills to help make this the welcoming place we call home.

Thank you volunteers!

Margaret Nelson is executive director of The River Center Family and Community Resource Center in Peterborough.