‘The heartbeat of our community’

Florence Area Community Coalition celebrates local volunteers

April 13, 2019 — The Florence Area Community Coalition (FACC) held its annual volunteer appreciation event on Wednesday to honor the hundreds of volunteers and dozens of organizations who share their time and resources in the Siuslaw region.

“We are so thankful for your work as volunteers, for your work in supervising volunteers and giving opportunities and for all the things that you do for Florence,” said FACC board member Greg Wood. “For all the good that you’ve done this past year for other folk, for the goals you’ve met and the gracious gifts you’ve given, we are here to say thank you to each and every one of you.”

FACC reported that there were 608 volunteers associated with groups such as Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue, the Friends of the Siuslaw Public Library, the Friends of the Florence Events Center, Florence Food Share, Siuslaw Outreach Services and dozens of other organizations.

The volunteers logged 35,113 hours in the past year, equaling the equivalent of $377,465 at minimum wage.

“But the fact of the matter is, all of you here are worth more than minimum wage,” Wood said. “In your work, you have changed the face of Florence. And you help make our community a more loving and caring place. You have saved lives, changed lives, and enriched us as a population.”

Wood polled the audience to see how long individuals worked with specific organizations. A quarter of the audience, which consisted of more than 100 people, rose their hand when asked if they had served for over five years. There was one volunteer who had worked with an organization for more than 30.

“It helps when we volunteer with a group, when we get to know people that we are working with, to hear the stories of how things have been, the excitement of how we have had success and how things have gone well,” Wood said. “It assures some of us that it’s okay to grow old in this organization, growing old and working. There’s always a place for you.”

Danielle Goldblatt was named the recipient of the Youth Volunteer of the Year award for her efforts with various organizations, including the Florence Area Arts Alliance, the Oregon Coast Humane Society, PeaceHealth Peace Harbor, Elks, 4H and various school activities, including the drama club, dance team and the choir, in which she had been selected as an Oregon Ambassadors of Music for a European trip.

“I have been involved in many community programs, and I’ve always loved volunteering and helping out where I can,” she said while receiving the award. “It’s been a big part of my life, and thank you.”

The keynote speaker for the event was Lane Community College Florence Center Dean Russ Pierson, himself an active volunteer in the community.

“It’s both an incredible honor, and humbling, to be able to speak at a gathering intended to honor the people who truly represent the heartbeat of our community. That’s each one of you,” he said.

Pierson based his speech around quotes that he believed represented the heart of volunteerism, starting with George W. Bush: “We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose in ourselves. A shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light.”

“There are the FEC volunteers who literally shine lights so theater goers can find their way in the dark,” Pierson said. “But every one of you know that we, collectively, are making the world a better place, one small act of kindness at a time. Whether you’re serving on the board of Siuslaw Outreach Services, helping to distribute the essentials of Food Share, are a volunteer firefighter, whatever it may be, you are lighting your corner of the world.”

Pierson then mentioned Mahatma Gandhi’s famed “Be the change you want to see in the world” quote, and likened it to the Power of Florence, an annual day of service in Florence that began in 2010. The event was created by then 10-year-old Kaylee Graham, who last year passed on the responsibilities of running the program to two other Siuslaw School District students.

“Kaylee’s vision has inspired thousands of hours of volunteer service on an annual basis,” Pierson said. “Her tender age makes it a unique and powerful story, but in this room, there are countless stories of people of every age who decide to be the change.”

Pierson then used one of his own favorite quotes, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

He commented, “When injustice makes you mad, that’s a good reason to follow your heart and volunteer. When you’re looking out for the interests of others, and particularly the underserved, you’re doing good and necessary work, and that’s true of so many of you in this room.”

Finally, Pierson quoted John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople in the late 300s.

“What we possess is not personal property. It belongs to all. God generously gives all things that are more necessary than money, such as air, water, fire, the sun, all such things. All these things are to be distributed equally to all.”

Pierson said that being a volunteer is not about balancing what one gets by what one gives. Instead, “It is recognizing that each and every one of us, the server and served, are beneficiaries of countless grace notes in the music of our lives. Those grace notes are written by others, our forebears, our fellows in community. Even the universe itself.”

He spoke on the history of the name Jehovah, written as four consonants, YHWH.

“There is an interesting thread that suggests this name is the sound of breath itself,” he said, saying “yah” is a breath in and “way” is a breath out. “Every time we breathe, it is a literal homage to the very lifeforce of the universe. While this suggests to some of us that we ought to be looking up to consider a being greater than ourselves, it should cause all of us to look around us. To recognize that we literally breathe the very same air that comes to us. All the others in this room, all the others in this planet, and especially to the people we serve. It is a reminder that all of us are one.”

The mission of the Florence Area Community Coalition is to improve the quality of life in Western Lane County through partnerships, networking, volunteerism, community involvement, education and awareness. For more information, visit www.florenceareacc.org.


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