Sweet Home’s legacy of volunteerism strikes home at banquet

We hear a lot about volunteerism here in Sweet Home, and I think it’s easy to take it for granted, because there is so much of it surrounding us.

But Saturday night I was impressed by the depth of self-sacrifice that was evident at the 70th annual Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet.

Like many organizations, our chamber tends to ebb and flow, and right now we seem to be in a little bit of an ebb, with two vacant seats on the board and as Manager Sherrie Pagliari departs for a job at the Albany Visitors Center.

Sherrie, who had previous experience in the field before she arrived in Sweet Home, began working here as a volunteer because the chamber (in another ebb cycle) was experiencing a financial crisis and couldn’t pay her when she first took over as manager a few years ago. Now she’s moving on to work at the Albany Visitors Association, which essentially serves the whole county, so we know she’ll still be serving Sweet Home there.

But this year, with Sherrie departing, it became clear that things were going to have to come together in a little more of a seat-of-the-pants fashion.

Volunteers stepped up.

Kim Palmer, whose mother, the late Patti Woods, was a major force in getting the banquet up and running each year when I arrived here in 2005, knew what she had to do. That was her running around the Community Center Saturday night, making sure everybody got their dessert and offering seconds for anyone who was interested.

The high school Key Club showed up to serve the meal, and did a great job.

This isn’t just happy talk. I was impressed.

When you think about it, that number, “70,” quite impressive by iteself. Although the actual awards apparently didn’t begin until the early 1950s, about 10 years in, after World War II had ended, this banquet has been held annually for seven decades – in a town that has never numbered more than 10,000.

The fact that well over 200 people could be honored over that period for their community service is notable. And we know that many of them were as equally deserving as those who were honored Saturday. And they were deserving.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, Sweet Home has a rich lode of people who see a need and don’t wait for someone else to meet it. They’re the ones who care about what’s going on in the community, even things that may not directly affect or benefit them. They’re the ones who are willing to sacrifice time and convenience to serve others.

I was particularly struck by that realization at this particular banquet. When you look at the activities being recognized, summarized briefly in our report starting on page 1, you realize that these are people who give of themselves in every sense.

There’s a lot of common grace in our community.

Consider the breadth of self-sacrifice displayed among just the honorees on Saturday: providing bugle (or trumpet) music for veterans’ funerals; meeting a host of other needs for veterans and their families; leadership in local anti-cancer efforts; enabling the flow of funding to local nonprofit organizations; service to churches; service to the homeless and hungry; service to senior citizens and shut-ins; organizing blood drives; facilitating athletic events in the pool and in the lake; fund-raising for scholarships; sweating it out over barbeque grills at fund-raisers; and much, much more. Remember, this is just one year’s worth of contributions. There have been approximately 60 more.

Another story on page 1 of today’s paper reports the signing of documents in which dozens of folks representing federal, state and local agencies and organizations with clout are pledging their determination to create a community forest east of Sweet Home. You’ll hear more about that down the road, but this was a milestone moment because it was the culmination of a level of collaboration and cooperation that was encouraging to everybody.

Funny thing is, Sweet Home’s been doing this on a smaller scale for years. And if you read that story, you’ll see that these people recognize that.

As we’ve said on this page before, this project could bring some real benefits to Sweet Home in the form of jobs and economic growth, in tourism and in forest products.

But it’s going to take effort – from us. Sure, there’s the strong possibility of funding and other help from the agencies represented by all those people who signed the documents. But our community is going to have to seize the opportunities placed before us and it’s going to take some of that volunteer spirit to get this thing off the ground. A lot of that volunteerism likely will need to come from the folks who stand to benefit the most – the younger generations.

As I sat in the Community Center at the banquet Saturday night, I thought how volunteerism surrounded me in every way. The very structure keeping the rain off our heads was built by volunteers.

That’s worth thinking about.