Recognizing Volunteers as the Start of a Movement
By Jodi La Marco
Hundreds of volunteers service the Woodstock area through organizations dedicated to the arts, the elderly, public safety, and more. Groups such as UlsterCorps, the local rescue squad, Bird-On-A-Cliff Theater Company, and the Woodstock Library Board are just a few of the organizations integral to the health, happiness, and wellbeing of residents. In honor of the hundreds of volunteers who serve in and around Woodstock, WAiV—Woodstock Appreciates its Volunteers—throws an annual celebration picnic known as Woodstock Volunteers Day.
“This was an idea that Sam Magarelli had, and I believe this is our 13th year,” says WAiV President and Program Director at Family of Woodstock Tamara Cooper. “His intention was to honor volunteers in the Woodstock community and the Woodstock area. We at Family became involved because this is a celebration and an honoring of volunteers, and our program here in Woodstock has approximately 50 volunteers,” she says.
The day includes a free picnic lunch for volunteers supplied by local stores and restaurants, as well as an afternoon and evening of entertainment. “We have about five or six musical acts that come on, and some musicians also donate their time. In the evening, the Woodstock Volunteer Fire Department has its fireworks, which are wonderful,” says Cooper.
The day also includes activities for the children and grandchildren of volunteers. This year’s kid-friendly activities include a bouncy house, giant bubbles, and the Art Bus—a mobile art studio offering instruction in printmaking and painting. “The public can also buy a wristband for the children’s activities. We really encourage the whole community to come out and support the volunteers who do so much for everyone in our community. That’s a really important concept for us; that we give back and show support and appreciation for the volunteers supporting our community,” explains Cooper. While the free picnic is offered only to volunteers, food is available for purchase to all who wish to partake in the day’s festivities.
Coordinating Woodstock Volunteer’s Day is a huge effort, says Cooper. “We’re always looking for additional help from board members. We have some board members who have been involved for many years. Family of Woodstock has been actively involved in the preparation that’s done beforehand, as well as the on-site organization that’s needed the day-of for probably 11 of those 13 years,” she adds. “We have a small board of directors. We really are a working board, so everyone participates in some way. We have to organize the music, we have to organize the food. We have to organize the pick-up of the food. We organize the tents that we put up, the chairs, and the children’s activities. Woodstock Youth Center’s young people help us with the decorations. The Woodstock Day Camp always does artwork for us to put on the tables and around the site.”
Another challenge for WAiV is to find helpers who aren’t regular volunteers. “Finding volunteers for the Volunteer’s Day is such a tricky piece. We have so wanted to not use volunteers. That’s why we at Family stepped in early on. We have a small paid staff here, though we have a much larger volunteer staff. We try to be really careful, even if we’re only stuffing envelopes for our mailing, that only people who get paid to be here do that. We really want volunteers to feel the appreciation and to just soak it in rather than be the ones putting it on,” Cooper says. Not surprisingly, sometimes volunteers just can’t stop themselves from volunteering. “Volunteers are so dedicated that sometimes we have to just say uncle and let them participate as well. We try not recruit any volunteers to help us on the day-of or to help with food. Invariably someone will bring a desert or a dish to share because that’s just what volunteers do. It’s such a beautiful part of community, and our community in particular.”
In the end, the results are well worth the effort that goes into making Woodstock Volunteer’s Day possible. “People really love it, and they feel so gratified to be honored in that way. We also have the volunteer of the year. Woodstock honors one volunteer every year, and that is announced at our picnic. Our volunteers have come back and said how much they value it,” Cooper says
Woodstock’s volunteers aren’t the only ones who have taken notice of this annual celebration. “A few years ago, we got a letter from President Obama recognizing this community event and the importance of volunteerism in the United States,” notes Cooper.“We do get recognition from the County Legislature and some level of state recognition acknowledging the importance of giving back to those people who really dedicate themselves to the wellbeing of the community. Whether it’s the Volunteer Fire Department, Meals on Wheels, Family of Woodstock, or some of the committees that do the work that goes into running the town like the town board or planning board, all of those different levels of volunteerism can sometimes go unnoticed, but they never go unfelt.”
This year’s celebration is scheduled to take place on Saturday, August 19th at Andy Lee Recreational Field in Woodstock, starting midday. “It usually costs us between three and four thousand dollars to put this on, so we do have to do some fundraising for that,” Cooper explains.
Those wishing to donate to WAiV can visit volunteersday.org for information on how to help.