Getting back on her feet after experiencing homelessness at the age of 19, Jeanette Iurato decided to honor those who had helped her during those incredibly difficult times by giving back. The 39-year-old Blairstown, New jersey resident volunteered in soup kitchens, toy drives and even transporting hurricane evacuees. She eventually left her career and was able to dedicate more of her time to volunteering and has since given back to her community in more ways than one.
For the past four years, she has dedicated every waking moment to improving and revitalizing Blairstown’s Historic District. She continuously develops events and programs designed to benefit the small business community. She raises funds for individuals who are less fortunate and offers support to local fire victims. While her schedule is planned nearly one-year in advance, she never says no to someone in need, whether they are a friend or strange.
Because of commitment and dedication to service, Jeanette is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree. Points of Light spoke to her to learn more about her service work.
What inspires you to volunteer?
While I had helped others throughout my life, it was never in a profound way. However, at the age of 19 years old, I found myself alone and homeless. It was through the grace of strangers that I was provided with food, housing, and eventually employment opportunities which enabled me to work my way towards a better life. This experience was an awakening for me and I vowed to honor the individuals who helped me during the lowest and hardest days of my life by dedicating whatever time I had left on this earth to serving others. When my schedule would allow, I would volunteer — from soup kitchens, to toy collections, and even transporting hurricane evacuees. At the age of 39 years old, I was fortunate to be able to leave my career, and dedicate a substantial portion of my time to volunteering. My husband has been unwavering in his support of my various pursuits. Every day, I seek new opportunities to give back — whether it is improving the lives of individuals in my community, enhancing and preserving our historic district, or supporting local businesses and budding entrepreneurs. My commitment to honor the individuals who helped me inspires me daily.
Describe your volunteer duties:
Many of my volunteer opportunities are through the Blairstown Museum, where I help to organize the organization’s exhibits, events, programs, tours; as well as our beautification and preservation projects. In addition to those responsibilities, I am also the Curator of the Blairstown Museum and available to the public during the Museum’s hours of operation. However, I also volunteer for other community organizations as needed, and sometimes I take it upon myself to volunteer independently of any group – fundraisers for fire victims, toy collections, and assisting local businesses with their advertising.
What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the most rewarding part of my work. From putting smiles on the faces of those less fortunate to breathing new life into the historic district and even sharing the story of someone who is long gone — it is all rewarding. However, if I had to select one thing, I would say it is inspiring others to volunteer. In the beginning, I was doing most of this alone. After I established the Blairstown Museum, an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, I was able to create a network of individuals and businesses who volunteer along side me. In ways large and small, they too serve our community and preserve our history. It’s very rewarding to inspire and be inspired by others.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I have learned that human beings are inherently suspicious. Many people spend their days looking for the “ah-ha, I knew it was too good to be true” moment to justify their jadedness. While it is important to listen and learn from your critics, it’s equally, if not more so, important to not let them deter or stifle your volunteer spirit. Volunteering isn’t about them or you. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about service to others. It’s about making and leaving the world a better place.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
At the moment, I am excited about the Blairstown Museum’s future. By way of donors, supporters, and volunteers, we have grown every year exponentially. We currently manage or participate in over 100 programs, events, and tours every year. Now that we have more volunteers, we are eager to increase that number. In fact, this September we are opening a Friday the 13th Museum (the 1980 movie was filmed in our town), which will undoubtedly improve the local economy and give much needed exposure to all of our local mom-and-pop shops.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
It’s important for everyone to sit down and list their strengths, assess what is needed in their community, and then apply those strengths to addressing those needs. It is my firm belief that society’s best safety nets are created by volunteers, particularly those associated with non-profit organizations. While we certainly need a strong government, we also can’t rely on government to solve all of our problems or meet all of our needs. My advise to others is, the best way to improve your community is to get involved in your community. One of my favorite quotes is by Marjorie Moore. She said, “You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” It’s not only a great quote and my email signature, it’s also how I live my life.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I want people to learn that volunteering isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Out of all of the things you will see, do, and experience in your life, giving back to others, particularly to those who cannot repay you, is single-handedly the greatest gift you can give society and yourself. Your community most likely has numerous ways for you to volunteer and get involved. If you’re really adventurous, establish your own non-profit organization and implement projects that meet the organization’s mission. Whether you donate one hour or one day every week, find a way to help others. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t.
Do you want to make a difference like Jeanette? Click here to find local volunteer opportunities.