(from Maine Townsman, May 1999)
By Deborah Bowker, Director of Parks & Recreation, Town of Skowhegan

Proactive volunteers are the backbone of our community organizations. Local citizens do believe in giving freely of their time, talents, and energy.

Volunteers play an integral role in many areas of service. They provide labor and experience; a substantial economic benefit to all of us. Individuals volunteer because they believe their communities will be better places to live in due to their efforts.

Local government officials and employees need to nurture these valuable human resources and provide positive experiences for volunteers who assist with our unfunded programs and projects.

In Skowhegan and the Somerset County region, parks and recreation initiatives by volunteers have had positive results.

Coaching Opportunities: The Skowhegan Parks and Recreation Department offers a variety of programs that 450 local volunteer coaches participate in annually. The services of volunteers have surpassed two million hours to date. Without these efforts, our program offerings would be fewer and user fees would be more substantial!

Somerset Youth Hockey Association: This dedicated group of volunteers organizes an ice hockey program for 120 youths ages 3-18. Their annual fundraising efforts raise $18,000. The association works diligently to maintain an outdoor olympic size rink located at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds. In terms of other services, Somerset coaches contribute 2,250 hours of service annually. Youths pay less than $100 a year to participate in six months of hockey due to the organization’s commitment in minimizing program fees through volunteer fundraising efforts.

Lake George Regional Park: Lake George Regional Park, a 250-acre pristine park, operates solely on volunteer efforts and financial contributions. People from all walks of life help the park succeed. Local students, boy scouts, girl scouts, retirees and interns contribute time to upgrade and maintain the park.

• The Skowhegan Area High School Outing Club has purchased equipment for the park so that the park staff can monitor the water quality at the lake.

• The annual spring cleanup involves middle school students working to beautify the park. Last year, students raised $1,000 in pledges for their clean up work. The $1,000 pledge goes to the annual fundraising campaign at the park.

• Lake George Regional Park officials, in conjunction with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, have worked hand-in-hand with volunteers to unearth artifacts dating back 2,150 years. Prehistoric tools were unearthed. Seventeen Skowhegan Area High School students took part in a year long pilot course involving the park.

• Other projects to date have included the construction of a nature trail by local elementary students, the Key Bank day of service project in the park, the winterization of the ranger’s office conducted by the local Boy Scouts, and the Unity College day of service in the park.

By using the full potential of a volunteer workforce, we can all expand our services; bring about closer ties with our communities; increase our organizations opportunities; and provide an enormous amount of manpower.

Most people enjoy helping, particularly when they know that their labor and knowledge are genuinely needed and will be used effectively to complete an important project.

In conclusion, treat your volunteers well and remember everyone must feel that he or she is a winner by having provided a valuable contribution to your cause.