2012 Trailblazer Awards Luncheon

11 01 02Thank You!

I know that there are so many others who are committed to voluntarism who could be standing here today – many of whom are in this room – and I am grateful to be one of you.

With the economic demands on society today one would suspect there would be a decline in volunteers across the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, in the 2010-2011 year 64.3 million Americans, roughly one fifth of the population, still volunteered their time to serve their communities. They worked over 8 billion hours and the estimated value of their time is 169 billion dollars. This has a tremendous impact on the quality of life in this nation. As one volunteer so aptly declared,

"Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year ... but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in."

In the Capital Region and across the country volunteers are the glue that hold not-for-profit organizations and communities together. We can all be energetic participants in building strong communities and at no other time has it been more imperative that we do so.

What has been really special for me is working with the not-for-profit sector. In Schenectady, the staff at the agencies and organizations that benefit the community is exemplary. The employees at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady, for example, inspire me each and every time I go there. Their hard work and their dedication to the children is boundless. They love them, they teach them, and they mentor and nourish and lead them. They even reach into their own pockets to support them. I know this is true in other agencies as well and I cannot think of any group that I admire more!

When Margaret Mead said "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world " she could have been referring to how the volunteers in the Capital Region join together to make things happen in OUR world. That was certainly shown when the Women’s Fund was founded in response to a critical need to help women in poverty. The Niskayuna Community Foundation was conceived to meet the ongoing needs of a community in the 21st century. I once read that there are 3 kinds of people…"those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who say WHAT happened?"The volunteers who established the Joan Nicole Prince Home make things happen. For example, Stacy Bentrovato, a Hospice nurse, saw a need when a young mother, dying from breast cancer, was sent to a hospital far from her children. Stacey gathered volunteers to establish a home for the terminally ill in the Schenectady area. 5 years later volunteers are showing up every day of the year to care for the residents who are in the last stages of their lives.

Certainly the not-for-profit world in the Capital Region benefits from all of you who make them a recipient of your philanthropic endeavors. And I hope you will include a donation to the American Red Cross this year as our country goes through difficult times. These organizations also benefit from your hands on volunteer support and your board leadership. Not for profit board leadership is always a challenge in today’s economy as we attempt to build and safeguard the organizations we lead. Hands on volunteer work is extremely meaningful. Helping to access support for an abused child, receiving a hug from a victim of domestic violence, accepting thanks from a family who just received their food basket, working with senior citizens or even teaching a brownie troop the basics of camping….are all examples of experiences which have enriched MY life.

I recently was reading a story about a volunteer in an inner city soup kitchen that touched my heart.

"A young woman was serving meals to guests. It was her very first day and she was nervous and unsure of how to behave around the poor, the indigent, and the homeless people. As one man was moving past her, she noticed that he had missed his bread portion so she reached out and touched his arm. When he turned, the young woman ….the volunteer….saw that he was crying and concerned she asked if she had hurt him. With tears in his eyes the man replied, "No…but you are the first person who has touched me in more than 2 years." Many of you have been that person and I commend you. You have helped turn a life around.

Martin Luther King said, "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, "What are you doing for others?" No matter how big or small the volunteer opportunity– what you do makes a positive impact on the world. Thank you ALL so much for your part in improving the quality of life in our Capital Region.