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‘The Big Need’

 April 21, 2022

What better time than the middle of National Volunteer Week (April 17 – 24) to take the time to salute every person who gives their time — truly our most precious commodity — to help others.

The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta receives a few dozen press releases each week from community groups of every stripe throughout Otsego County — organizations looking out for the environment, preserving open spaces, grooming hiking trails. Groups dedicated to keeping political discourse at a civil level, encouraging citizens to vote and participate in democracy. Programs to feed the hungry, help the homeless, save and protect animals. Perform for and promote local arts and artists, help out in the schools, decorate village streets for holidays, coach Little League and soccer and basketball.

And almost as an aside, such announcements usually include some semblance of this proud statement: “[insert name] is an all-volunteer organization governed by a volunteer board of directors.”

Board of Education, town, and village governments, too, run on volunteer steam: these board members, supervisors, mayors, trustees, legislators, committee members, and appointees aren’t in it for the big paycheck. We’re humbled when imagining the amount of time and dedication these volunteers devote to a sometimes thankless task, serving a public that can be quick to judge and criticize yet take for granted the day-to-day quality of life that these volunteers make possible.

Oneonta Mayor Mark Drnek talked a lot about ‘quality of life’ when he ran his successful 2021 campaign. It’s a theme that has been the centerpiece of many of his public appearances since taking office in January. In his weekly video message dated April 16, the mayor makes an appeal to city residents to “work together” for summer programs.

“We are all in this together,” he says. “Which is why I’m going to hit you again with ‘The Big Need.’ The immediate need. Our children’s summer camp program. We need folks aged 18-80 who can put in a few hours a day for a few weeks. I’m asking you to volunteer or to sign up for the part-time compensation. Oneonta: we can do this for the young children and their parents and their care providers.”

The mayor’s message echoes Oneonta YMCA Executive Director Frank Russo’s hope to keep the summer camp vibrant – the need to commit a little bit of time in our busy week to serve the communities in which we’re all so proud to live and work.

Any person who has served as a board member, organized a Sunday art show, staged a play, or volunteered to lead a community’s government can attest to the reality that it’s a demanding commitment. But rewarding, too, of course — the satisfaction of serving, helping, driving a community forward, entertaining — that’s why people sign up and are so happy to give.

A few weeks ago, Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh presented villager and rock-star-level-volunteer Rich McCaffery with a Certificate of National Recognition as a Civic Volunteer. He was one of only 100 people across the country to win the designation, and any Cooperstown resident can tell you, the village is a better place for his selfless dedication. During this National Volunteer Week, let’s thank all the Rich McCafferys of our county who work so selflessly to make Otsego County a model of civic pride, and let’s be inspired to respond to The Big Need, wherever it exists.


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