Effort Mounted to Encourage Local Volunteers

Posted on 17 December 2009

Just as President Barack Obama has called on the American people to help ease the effects of an economic downturn and better the nation by volunteering for community organizations and not-for-profits, so to are a group of local organizations, banding together to increase awareness, and hopefully membership among their own ranks.

In October, artist and community activist April Gornik joined forces with Sag Harbor Village Trustee Robby Stein in an effort to bring the leaders of over a dozen community based service organizations – dedicated to conservation, public health, the environment, youth services and historic preservation and community awareness – together to talk about their goals, and more importantly, what their needs are.

“It really came down to people needing time and talent,” said Gornik on Monday. In addition to a desire to simply increase the number of volunteers in each organization, many are also looking to branch out, reach younger audiences in the community and upgrade the information services they provide to the Sag Harbor area and beyond.

“I think people are really busy keeping afloat right now,” said Gornik. “We want to let people know that there are a lot of ways to help a lot of organizations, whether you are a graphic artist who can help design a webpage or someone willing to lick stamps.”

To that end, Gornik and Stein worked with local groups to begin outreach, starting with an advertising campaign designed simply to let people know what groups are out there. The initiative also includes plans for a recruitment fair at Pierson High School, where they hope to have a volunteers table, as well as taking advantage of the September HarborFest celebration.

“We would really like a volunteer presence there,” said Gornik. “So while people are eating their lobster rolls they can think about some of the things they can do to pitch in.”

Stein’s involvement aligns community groups with village government, opening the door, Gornik hopes, for more opportunities for local government to work with local organizations.

“Now we have more of an opportunity to work together as an open village; and not just with Robby, but the whole village board,” said Gornik. “We have a really good roster up there.”

Sandra Ferguson, President of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (FLPG), credited the people of Sag Harbor as one of the more involved group of residents on the East End, but noted even with a dedicated core group of volunteers, the FLPG are in constant need of volunteers willing to work outdoors towards the betterment of the greenbelt.

“We actually think it is great fun,” she said.

The FLPG was established in 1997 and works in an all-volunteer capacity towards the preservation and stewardship of the Long Pond Greenbelt, located in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton. Volunteers are needed for habitat restoration, web and print publications, educational projects, trail and roadside clean-ups, community outreach and events planning.

In particular, said Ferguson, the FLPG would love to secure a volunteer with Internet expertise, noting the leadership of the organization is not quite web savvy.

One of the group’s most recent projects, and one Ferguson is particularly proud of, is a 30-acre grassland restoration the group is completing behind the South Fork Natural History Museum.

“It is a wonderful project that can involve all ages,” she said.

Ultimately, she said volunteering brings with it a sense of fulfillment not found in other aspects of ones life.

“In the long run, it is extremely fulfilling to be involved with something that is outside of our own personal set of goals and needs,” she said. “You will have a return on your investment of time and energy.”

Ed Downes, President of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corp., has found that fulfillment in his work providing emergency medical services to the community. The squad currently has 32 members, and Downes said it can use more help.

“We will take anyone willing to learn,” he said, noting it takes 150 hours to certify as an EMT and eight hours to learn CPR, plus additional in-house training.

“It’s non-stop,” said Downes, adding the squad does in-house training at least twice a month, and ultimately being an active member is a commitment of about seven to eight hours a week.

“We have a retirement program and for every 50 emergency calls we give you a free tank of gas,” said Downes. “Those are the big incentives we offer to try and keep our membership up.”

As with most organizations, the hardest part for most people, said Downes, is the time commitment. The squad is particularly in need of people willing to work between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. – a difficult time to find volunteers, he said, as most people are working and picking their kids up from school. But, he added, it is fulfilling knowing you are performing an important — and critical — service for the community.

Debbie Skinner’s Youth Advocacy and Resource Development (YARD), a not for profit, free recreation program for the children of Sag Harbor, is also in need of volunteers – students and parents alike.

“One, I need students to volunteer their time to be on the youth advisory board so they can tell us what kids would like to have, what programs, what trips, what is cool, what is not cool,” said Skinner. “Then we can give them what they want.”

Skinner said she likes to recruit a dozen students for that board, from grades eight through 11, to attend the two-hour monthly meeting, the only requirement.

“And it is wonderful for your transcript,” she added.

Parents are also crucial to YARD’s success, whether by serving on the board of directors or volunteering their time to chaperone events like this month’s winter trip to a skating rink in Hauppague.

 “Sag Harbor is wonderful in terms of the way parents chip in and volunteer,” continued Skinner. “I think a lot of parents tend to volunteer with the sports a lot, but this will bring light to other ways people can serve and share their skills.”

See the back page of this week’s issue of The Sag Harbor Express for a list of local volunteer organizations.

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