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The Gift of Giving
by Stephanie Eberly
With no shortage of organizations in need, volunteering can be a gratifying way to grow while helping the community.
As I walk down the rubber-covered aisles — adorned with horse hair, hay scraps, and whatever was on my shoe this morning — I am bombarded with the anxious neighs of hungry horses, beaming smiles from riders just finishing their lessons, and an overwhelming sense of belonging. An orange tabby races around my legs in pursuit of his brother, completing the barn setting. This is a familiar scene for any volunteer walking into STAR Equestrian Center. It’s fun, a little crazy, and where my desire to help people emerged.
When I was just a little girl, rescuing orphaned baby birds that fell out of their nest, nursing a stunned hummingbird back to health, or removing a dragonfly from the confines of a spider’s web was commonplace. Each of these things fed my passion to make a difference — one bird or one insect at a time. As I grew older, I realized animals weren’t the only ones who needed a helping hand. In fall 2009, I began my life-changing journey of volunteering.
The smiling faces and relentless determination of the challenged riders kept me coming back day after day. I thought I was teaching them, but in reality they were the ones teaching me. Working alongside the staff at STAR, I have been privileged to see hippotherapy enhance the lives and brighten the futures of many individuals. Since that first day almost five years ago, I have been able to serve for nearly 1,000 hours through organizations such as STAR, Convoy of Hope, and Churches in Missions, and I value every single second of it. Watching people come together as family to achieve one goal is one of the most inspiring things I have ever experienced.
There are many people right here in our community who are working to transform the community one hour, one home, and one life at a time. As full-time director of programs at Otterbein United Methodist Church, Cindy Brown, 62, of Hagerstown works to provide resources and encouragement to volunteers within the church. No matter her “paying job,” she always finds time to volunteer with local organizations, and her perseverance has paid off with a bucket of success stories and a growing sense of urgency to address national and international social justice issues.
In 2009, Cindy and the Otterbein Church decided to take action as the number of teen pregnancies in Washington County skyrocketed. Thus, the program Mothers of Pre-Schoolers (MOPS) was born. “I can’t put into words the sense of satisfaction when I meet one of our ‘girls’ who now holds a job, is raising a healthy child, and who remembers the encouragement provided through our MOPS volunteers,” says Cindy. After 10 years of working alongside the Washington County Family Center, the MOPS program — and most importantly the people running the program — has made a larger impact on the lives of young mothers than anyone could have imagined.
“I think volunteering needs to come from a humble place,” says Mike Fitzgerald, 30, of Smithsburg. Juggling between his full-time job as a real estate developer and investor, and his many tasks as a volunteer, Mike manages to sacrifice a couple of days each month to lend a helping hand. He first heard about the needs of the community by word of mouth, but as he became more and more involved in the work, Mike’s passion for the people blossomed into something much bigger. Ten years of working with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Boys & Girls Club can easily change the heart of a volunteer, molding an outlook from obligation to a willingness and love to serve. While hammering nails or piggybacking kids may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Mike enjoys it all and says, “It really feels good to help others and not just put yourself first.”
A volunteer for most of her life and a native of Funkstown, Stephanie Stone, 60, is involved with more organizations than you can shake a stick at. From involvement on the boards of Safe Place Washington County Child Advocacy Center to being part of starting Hopewell Express, Stephanie does a little bit of everything in order to impact the world around her. With a strong belief in the causes and a desire to make a difference, she serves with various organizations, all the while maintaining her position as the director of Health and Human Services for Washington County Commissioners. “I have learned to appreciate the opportunities I have been given throughout my life, a great family that cares about me, jobs that I have enjoyed and excelled at, and a feeling of belonging,” states Stephanie.
Volunteering is much more than a one-day instance of handing out food or playing with children. It is “the gift that keeps on giving.” It is something that lodges itself in the hearts it touches — both volunteers and recipients. Each hour freely given is an opportunity to learn, grow, and make an impact. There are organizations all throughout the country and within our own community that are looking for someone who is willing to step up to the plate and take that first swing.