PITTSFIELD — The second week of April is celebrated as National Volunteer Week, a time during which we reflect on the contributions of volunteers working hard to make our communities stronger with a higher quality of life for all.
For Berkshire United Way, it's also the time for our Live United Community Celebration on April 12 at Berkshire Hills Country Club, a public breakfast event where we present awards to leading community members in recognition for their volunteerism and thank the hundreds of volunteers who support of campaign fundraising efforts and community initiatives focused on early childhood literacy, positive youth development and financial stability.
Volunteering can encompass any number of things; it can be the commitment to organizing company outings that benefit the community in some way, like the tireless efforts of this year's recipient of the Daniel C. Dillon Helping Hands, Caring Heart Award, Brenda Petell of Sabic Innovative Plastics.
Or it can be economic and community development leadership like C. Jeffrey Cook of Cohen, Kinne, Valicenti & Cook, the recipient of this year's Robert K. Agar, Jr. Volunteerism Award. It is only with the devotion of volunteers that major accomplishments like our 2016 Day of Caring — building and installing dozens of Book Houses across Berkshire County — can happen.
While the benefits of living in a community full of devoted volunteers are easy to point to, something that often goes overlooked is the benefit to the volunteer themselves. One achievement we're particularly proud of is our engagement of youth as volunteers and how that impacts their decision making for the future.
A shining example is Taconic High School senior Jetter White, who will be speaking at the Live United Community Celebration about his experiences as a youth volunteer that led him to become an intern at Berkshire United Way and engaged on a career path he's excited about.
"I started volunteering with Berkshire United Way as a sophomore in high school through Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). Volunteering taught me leadership skills and turned into an internship at Berkshire United Way and the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership. These organizations have become very much a part of who I am, helping to shape me into the person I am today," Jetter told me.
"To say I have grown as a person through my volunteer work would be an understatement," he said. "I have not grown, but rather I have changed completely. Attending national conferences, advocating with legislators, working with adults on committees addressing prevention and coordinating surveys among my peers have all helped me to find myself and plan my future. Now I know what I would want to do with my life and where I want to go."
Chris Broast, a STOP Grant Associate who works with many youth volunteers through the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership at Berkshire United Way, supported Jetter's experiences: "Volunteers range from middle school aged on up to anyone who is passionate about creating a community that is aware of the negative impacts of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs on the community, and willing to work as a team to change that in a positive and unifying way. Since our volunteers are primarily youth, we look to provide them with a positive, educational, and integrated experience so they may one day be the drivers of the change we desire as a community."
"Each adult and youth who volunteers with us brings a unique perspective, life experience, and outlook to the work," added Tom Simon, program manager of Positive Youth Development here at Berkshire United Way. "Often the individual has a connection to the work in some way that ignites a passion to help to change the lives of others, and in so doing change their own lives."
So as we reflect on the role of volunteers in this great community of ours, keep in mind that the benefit is not only outward, but inward as well. There are always opportunities presenting themselves for volunteers at Berkshire United Way of any age.
Kristine Hazzard is president and CEO of Berkshire United Way, berkshireunitedway.org.
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For more information, or to register for the Live United Community Celebration on April 12, visit berkshireunitedway.org.