LAKE PLACID - Volunteers matter.
Consider the number of events that take place in Lake Placid, be it a large-scale activity like an Ironman triathlon or World Cup bobsled meet or something more modest like a Kiwanis Teddy Bear Picnic or the recently held Village Clean-up. How many of them could be held without the participation of volunteers? None.
In many respects, volunteering is a way of life in Lake Placid. Do you know anyone who does not volunteer? While there surely are some, they are a minority. When people move to the community, often the first advice they get on how to meet people, develop friendships, or make connections be it for personal or business reasons is to volunteer.
Tony Miller and Julianna Matos (Photo — Naj Wikoff)
Nine years ago, Kathy Pfohl, special events coordinator for ROOST and the volunteer coordinator for Ironman, got to thinking not only how valuable volunteers are for her events, but also for nearly every aspect of community life. The outcome was the creation of an annual day to recognize outstanding volunteers.
"I wanted to find ways to recognize volunteers in the community," said Pfohl. "I learned that President Nixon had started National Volunteer week many, many years ago, and he declared a day for recognition and I thought we should declare a day in our town too for our community volunteers. So we started this, and it has been growing ever since. We need to recognize all our volunteers, and I don't think we do enough of that."
"One of the toughest things we struggle with is being able to narrow it down to one person because there are so many people that do so much for this community," said Val Rogers, a member of the committee that selects the annual youth and adult volunteer of the year. "Every year, it is very tough because there are so many people, and this community can't function without volunteers. We feel it is really important to recognize people, but selecting which ones is really hard."
In the beginning, they honored the finalists as well as the ones selected to be volunteer of the year, but decided against that approach as it implied a contest and they didn't want anyone to feel they were in second place. Thus they decided to select just one adult - Dean Dietrich - and one youth. This year, however, two youths - high school seniors Julianna Matos and Tony Miller - were chosen.
"It is my privilege to express the community's appreciation for the dedication and hard work of this year's volunteers as they represent the community," said Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall on May 18 at the official dedication of a tree to this year's winners. "Julianna, Tony, and Dean, you carry a very heavy responsibility here because you represent a large number of individuals in our community who each year volunteer for many different activities that make our community a wonderful place to live, and I think it is appropriate for the community today to recognize the services you three represent."
"You look at Lake Placid," said Jim McKenna, CEO and president of ROOST. "You look at what we have here. You know it is from all of your efforts that you represent here that we have been able to do so much. If you put our community up against a city somewhere around the world, we probably accomplish more. It is really because of the desire we all have for this area that drives us. Dean, the planning efforts you have gone through will take this community much into the future. Julianna and Tony, as you go off to college, take with you what you have and remember, come back here. We need your leadership for the future. I want to thank you all very much. Your efforts mean a lot to all of us."
"This is a very special day for Lake Placid as it is a day we take time out to recognize very special people amongst us who do so many wonderful things for the community," said Roby Politi, North Elba town supervisor at a reception held at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. "I have said before local government cannot meet all the challenges we have to face, so we have to rely upon civic organizations, fraternal clubs, and various groups as well as all these special volunteers that we have here today."
"I am very happy to have been chosen volunteer of the year," said Miller. "I get great satisfaction out of helping others. I don't play a sport, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of scorekeeping for winter and spring sports, and working with CYC. I just like giving back to the community."
"I was very shocked to learn I was selected," said Matos. "I feel that a lot of our classmates are very much volunteers. Our class has always been one for volunteering. I love working with kids, so in sixth grade I completed my 40 required community service hours. I helped out with the after-school program down at the elementary school, and I just kept going because I love volunteering so much."
"I volunteer because I love the community," said Dietrich. "It's a wonderful place. Like every other community, it depends on volunteers, and since you want it to thrive, you help out. On the other hand, you get a lot from volunteering. Some of the best friends I have made and some of the best relationships I have had have come from working with people. You have a common goal. You develop a rapport and move forward with them."
In some respects, this year's ceremony was a bit poignant because it was held literally a half hour after a funeral for long-time community volunteer Dr. George Hart.
"You know the thought of George's passing and our reason for being here today to honor National Volunteer week and more appropriately honoring our own community volunteers who have done such a great job, in many was George and his dedication to our community and its people is exactly what volunteerism in Lake Placid is all about. While George might have been with his family in spirit today he could be looking down on this activity right now.
"Truth is we have an extraordinary group of people in this community who do so much," said Politi.