by Krista Madsen
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Toiling behind the scenes, with little acknowledgement and no pay, it is the volunteers who really seem to provide the special sauce to this community.
A room of five extreme volunteers, who have dedicated countless hours to service, somehow found the time to join us in mid-October at Warner Library for an Oral History session paying tribute to a handful of our innumerable nonprofit organizations and the essential people who keep them going.
Ann Phillips, who has lived here all her life, was reared to serve, she said, by the influence of a mother who was “never at home.” Active in the women’s auxiliary at the hospital, Phillips’ mother “directed me into that sort of life.”
Phillips has been on the board of Tarrytown’s The Neighborhood House “forever.” She is now also very involved in a new organization aimed at providing support and services to help seniors remain independent in their homes, It Takes a Village 10591.
The treasurer of ITAV, Leonard Hyman, spoke of the endless bureaucratic hoops of creating a new nonprofit, a start-up essentially. “I foolishly volunteered to be treasurer which I thought would be easy because there’s no money,” he said.
With three years of legal, insurance and other obstacles behind them, in July ITAV finally started providing services to community seniors. Members can now get rides to medical appointments from volunteers, Hyman being one of them.
He imparted several key lessons learned through this start-up ordeal. Rather than seek out big donors at country club benefits in a town already maxed out on giving and not as wealthy as some Westchester neighbors, ITAV decided to run everything on a volunteer-only basis. Next, when there is funding needed, they solicit it in a very focused, per-item way, since donors are more inspired to give when they know exactly where the money is going. The group could use volunteers in a variety of capacities: handyman services, regular companionship visits, grocery shopping, driving – but it proves tougher to find someone to keep up with the organization’s administration needs.
Managing the data/computer work generated by any organization these days is “a harder sell,” but so essential. Jennifer Green, Kids’ Club of Tarrytown & Sleepy Hollow President, agreed, “We need data entry. We’d like to have a secretary to keep our records. It doesn’t sound as exciting to a lot of people, so they really need to have a commitment and see the value to making the whole organization run.”
All the groups expressed a need to widen their net of volunteers – since the same core people tend to volunteer for multiple causes – and for an infusion of new board members to keep things fresh. “The board gets stagnant with the same people on it forever and ever,” Phillips said.
Susan Goodwin said they were hoping to revive the wing of the League of Women’s Voters that would maintain a presence at government meetings, from the local level on up. The “Observer Corp” was demanding, but, from Goodwin’s experience, in the most gratifying way. “I thoroughly enjoyed those meetings, getting to know legislators and the issues they’re working on,” she said. “People who do this don’t realize how much they’re going to like it. You feel yourself getting thoroughly immersed.”
Goodwin admitted she temporarily had to step down from her longtime post as President of the local LWV since she had trouble in this unprecedented election cycle adhering to their nonpartisan stance. “But I’ll be back Nov. 9,” she said.
Goodwin is also very involved with the Tarrytown Environmental Advisory Committee (TEAC) and the Tree Commission. The commission is working to get a village ordinance passed promoting proper education about the removal and care of our trees. Trees, she said, are one of our greatest yet most overlooked resources, a main reason we rank among the “prettiest towns in America.”
Phillips said the beauty of volunteering is getting out of the bubble of your own concerns and contributing to the bigger picture. “It’s to see that’s there’s so much more than your little life and also that you can help,” she said.
Green, citing the Gandhi quote above, helped found Kids’ Club eight years ago. When the Boys & Girls Club, which her husband was involved with, left the Community Opportunity Center, they saw a need not to replace it with yet another organization, but to help connect, fund and support the many organizations that already exist. As a stay-at-home mother, Green related to Phillips’ memory of her mom as someone working an awful lot for someone without a job. Volunteering has kept her skills sharp after leaving her career as a lawyer.
“It allows me to use my brain again,” Green said. “Whether it be serving on the school board or working with Kids’ Club, these forms of service give me opportunities to think analytically and strategically, employ the speaking and writing skills I spent many years developing in my academic and professional career, put my former creative skills to use with various marketing projects, and also learn new things… These volunteer outlets have been important to my sense of self-worth as well as to my intellect.”
Goodwin, who taught environmental health, said it was important for her to start volunteering before she retired so she had some roles in place to transition into that “fit into my goals in life.”
Joan Wald, a 16-year volunteer at the Warner Library says she fell in love with the place the moment she saw it. When she came up from Woodlawn to visit her daughter’s new apartment across from the library, she asked, “Do you think they have a room I could rent in the attic? I could live there!” While she doesn’t live there she happily spends plenty of time. “I absolutely love this library and the people in it.”
Volunteering – along with all the activities these many local volunteer-driven organizations create – keep the seniors “off the streets,” some joked. “Without them, we’d be wandering around,” Wald said.
To find out more about any of these organizations, you can inquire at the library at (914) 631-7734. Next up: Calling long-time small business owners of 10591: we’d love to hear your shop stories. Join us for the next Oral History session at Warner Library on Friday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. To RSVP contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call the library.