BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Two celebrations in Niskayuna during the first week in June celebrated volunteers and spread the message that even small contributions make a difference when people work together.
At the Niskayuna Community Action Program’s Volunteer Service Awards on June 2, 52 volunteers were commended for completing 62,745 hours of service in total — an impressive figure considering there are only 8,760 hours in a year. Their collective hours set a local record.
N-CAP President Denise Leader said, in part, the impressive total surpassed previous years simply because community volunteers were reminded to log their hours.
“I had challenged the board in January to lead by example and turn in their time and see if we could have 100 percent board participation,” she said.
It worked: The 14 N-CAP board members, plus the group’s office administrator, registered work that totaled 37,232 hours, more than half of the total.
Leader said it can be tough getting volunteers to track their hours because community volunteers aren’t motivated by recognition. But tracking hours is about more than that.
“When you write it down and you have it all right in front of you, you can see how much you did accomplish,” which fosters the sense that the volunteer has made a difference, she said.
It also sets a good example for young volunteers who will keep working in their communities for years to come.
“I’m just hoping that the folks that are here, especially the young people, … I just hope it kind of sets a flavor for them going forward that beyond their school years they continue to volunteer,” Leader said. “That’s where the future is.”
Finally, she said, keeping a tally helps volunteers realize how satisfying it is to participate in a team.
“There are some people, they did 100 hours, 50 hours, but when you look at the total of 62,000 you realize the impact everybody, collectively, is making in the community,” she said. “You realize, wow, we are making a difference.”
Susan Farber, who was recognized as Volunteer of the Year on June 4 at Congregation Agudat Achim at the temple’s first annual Guardians of the Community ceremony, echoed Leader’s sentiment that a little donated time and energy goes a long way for a community.
Calling from New York City, where she was about to embark on a retreat of women philanthropists with the Jewish Federation, Farber said the key is having the desire to improve the world.
“You don’t have to be a big giver to be a philanthropist,” she said, a common misconception she works hard to eradicate as a board member of the Women’s Philanthropy group.
Farber also serves on the board of a number of other organizations locally, in and around Niskayuna. She noted that it can be harder for people to realize that their financial donations matter than to feel good about giving their time, but that both are important.
“I think people get hung up a lot when you use the word philanthropist that you’re wealthy,” she said. “It isn’t — it’s a meaningful gift from you and your family, learning how the money’s being used.
“If that $500 is a meaningful gift, you are a philanthropist,” she continued. You’re taking the time to learn about what’s needed in the world.”