Compass: Volunteers make Anchorage a better city

By JENNIFER HOWELLJune 9, 2013 

A few weeks ago, Anchorage volunteers were honored at the 32nd annual Golden Hearts Banquet recognizing their value in our community. The event, sponsored by BP, celebrates our volunteers and their vital role in Anchorage being a great place for all of us.

Over 250 volunteers representing nearly 30 local organizations gathered to celebrate their peers. Awards were presented to:

• Autumn Harth, Youth Community Service Award Winner - As a high school student Autumn has logged hundrends of volunteer hours for numerous organizations including the American Cancer Society.

• Ma'o Tosi, Community Service Award - The founder of AK PRIDE helps kids by helping them get involved in the community.

• ERA Alaska, Outstanding Business of the Year - Their contribution of more than 4,000 flights to local cancer patients is a huge support in a time of need.

• Anchorage Association for Family & Community Education (AAFCE), Volunteer Program of the Year - Their 'Raise a Reader' packets are distributed to parents of all newborns in Anchorage through local hospitals.

• Lupus Alaska, Volunteer Program of the Year - A major education and information campaign has helped bring awareness of this disease to those who may be struggling with a diagnosis.

• Anchorage Parks & Recreation: Trail Watch program, Volunteer Program of the Year - For years these volunteers have kept our public trails safe and clean.

It is important to recognize and celebrate these outstanding individuals and programs - congratulations and thank you! Volunteerism is one of our strengths in Anchorage. It brings us together to create change and to imagine what is possible.

Looking out across the room that night I saw a community that cares about parents reading to their newborns, making our parks safe and accessible, our city libraries inviting and useful and keeping our watershed healthy. I was inspired by the volunteers who help youth overcome adversity in order to graduate from high school, insuring no one goes hungry, or becomes homeless and compassionately assist families coping with death.

I know firsthand how volunteers create connections in our local community. Nine years ago I found myself pregnant and single but fortunate enough to be able to move in with my family while I contemplated my future. I had a good job with benefits but I made too much money to qualify for most social service programs.

I found Habitat for Humanity-Anchorage and was accepted as a Partner Family. I earned my sweat equity working side-by-side with volunteers to finish my home and the homes of others.

Seeing these volunteers, strangers to me, on the jobsite day-after-day, week-after-week, no matter the weather, had a profound effect on me. It made me feel like I finally belonged somewhere.

That feeling of belonging helped me find my wings, too.

We all have a story to tell. How we helped a neighbor, donated food to a local pantry, became a mentor to a child, or perhaps how a volunteer impacted our own life.

We need you to tell your story so that others will be inspired to make a difference. Imagine if we all volunteered for the causes that we're passionate about. Your story can be what helps someone else raise their hand to lend a hand.

So tell your story around the dinner table, the water cooler, on Facebook or at the board meeting. Just tell it.

Want more stories to tell? Visit Anchorage's newest volunteer website -- BeTheChange907.org -- which makes it easy to find the volunteer opportunity that's right for you.

Mayor Sullivan's Proclamation sums it up best "...experience teaches us that government by itself cannot solve all of our community's social problems; and...volunteers are vital to our future as a caring and productive community...By volunteering and recognizing those who serve, we can replace disconnection with understanding and compassion."

Thank you for making a difference, Anchorage.

Jennifer Howell is president of the Anchorage Association for Volunteer Administration, a nonprofit which provides education and volunteer recognition support to local volunteer coordinators. She also is director of Community Engagement at United Way of Anchorage.

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