I Grew Up In A Community That Valued Service

Apr 12, 2012

Tracy ThomasToday’s Turning Point comes from guest writer, Tracy Thomas, Manager of Visitor Experience at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, N.Y. When not coordinating volunteers, Tracy enjoys hiking, kayaking, and hanging with her dog, Cade, in the Adirondacks.

I don’t recall a specific turning point that led me to volunteering or being a manager of volunteer programs. My story is as much a tale about my parents as it is about me.

I was raised in a very small town in Northern New York. It was the type of place where neighbors help neighbors without asking for anything in return. A place where you shovel someone’s driveway when you are doing your own, offer to pick up groceries for the elderly woman down the street, and jump in with support and casseroles when a family is in crisis. My mother and father sought to foster this spirit in my brother and I, knowing it would have long-term, positive impacts for both of us. The words “Tracy will do that” or “I will send Todd right over” were commonly heard in our household.

Their efforts to raise community-minded, caring children were my turning point. I learned from a young age that helping others had benefits in the way I felt about myself and the world. I also learned that when you are willing to put yourself out there to help those in need you will find that other people are willing to help, too.

In high school and college my service focus changed from helping in a neighborly way to formal volunteering, with dog walking at animal shelters and bingo at nursing homes added to my activities. I joined the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega in college and became an officer, striving to help our organization reach more people. I still took great enjoyment, however, in the basic level of volunteering – jumping in to assist those around me.

Today, as a certified volunteer administrator and someone who has made a career in the field of volunteerism, I still strive to work with people who are looking to help in both formal and informal ways. One of my favorite definitions of volunteering remains “being aware of another’s needs and doing something about it.”  

The theme for this year’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service is “Turning Point.” At Points of Light we are highlighting turning point stories – stories about the moment or moments that inspired your service.