September 14, 2017 // 8:47 AM

Finding Purpose in Community

Written by Art Petrosemolo

Volunteering is described as an altruistic activity where an individual provides services for no financial gain to benefit another person, group or organization and is often intended to promote the quality of life. 

The definition fits the volunteer community at Garden Spot Village perfectly. Here, nearly 600 people (including 500 residents) spent more than 56,000 hours (equal to more than 2000 24-hour days) helping in the community. Tasks ranged from folding towels in the laundry room and delivering campus mail to providing companionship and help for its senior residents, according to Deborah Fast who has coordinated the program for the past six years.

Fast has seen the total number of volunteer hours grow with an increase of nearly 3,000 hours – five percent – in 2016 and there is reason to believe – with the community growing with Sycamore Springs residents moving in every week – 2017 will also see an increase in total volunteer hours.

“I came here because Garden Spot Village had a reputation of having a culture of service and engagement and it proved true,” says Fast. “Our Garden Spot Village mission is to enrich the lives of older adults as an expression of Christ’s love and I see that every day with our volunteers and the residents they serve.”

Fast and her staff coordinate individual volunteers and groups working throughout the community providing a variety of important help - above basic services - that would not otherwise be possible.

My wife Tina takes pleasure in working in the Aeroponic greenhouse. She started shortly after we arrived here last December. She also does the internal mail for Sycamore Springs. Many of our Sycamore Springs new neighbors, like Rex Trent who moved in during the spring, quickly got involved. Rex takes shifts driving the Jolly Trolley and works with wife Carol volunteering at community events. Neighbors Liz and Larry Bicking - whose home faces ours - also work in the greenhouse and Tom and Janice Ford, two doors away, are helping run evening programs. The remaining new residents all plan to get involved after they finish settling into the community and learn more of the myriad of volunteering opportunities.

Besides serving the Garden Spot Village community in traditional roles, volunteers (with leadership from the woodshop) have recently been helping construct the new adult, affordable housing Cooperate Living House a short distance from the main campus. Volunteers also serve the larger Lancaster County community through involvement with local churches and civic organizations. Also, volunteers have taken part in overseas mission opportunities for the last several years in Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

Long-time volunteer Betty Hershey, who has been a resident in Gardens West since 2009, is from just down the road in Paradise. She told me that she moved from “Paradise to Heaven” and could not be happier.

Betty joined the community with a history of service. She and her late husband Kenneth were involved in their church’s Meals-On-Wheels program and when exploring how to help in her new home, she accepted the invitation to spend a night each week in Laurel View hosting Bingo. Betty smiles and says that many of the residents in Laurel View respond favorably to Bingo and enjoy the game. They always want one last game before she leaves at the end of the evening.

“It is very rewarding,” she says, “and emotional at the same time.” Emotional, she says, as her late husband was beginning to have memory issues before he passed away earlier this year. “And,” she says, “one of our neighbors who greeted us when we moved to Garden Spot is now in Laurel View and I see him every week.”

Betty also works with local farmers (her husband was a former farmer) during the growing season to prepare vegetables for use in Garden Spot Village kitchen. From a food service background, she and a small group, help prepare vegetables and fruits that are used for meals in the Garden Spot Village restaurants.

Although volunteers do not replace jobs that are traditionally done by paid staff, their work, according to Fast, adds value to the community and helps keep residents’ monthly fees to modest increases. In addition, says Fast, “it enhances Garden Spot’s reputation as a community which has a strong culture of service and engagement enhancing our reputation as a desired place to retire.”

Tina and I learned about the volunteer program from Bonnie Gerig on our first visit to Garden Spot to learn about the community nearly two years ago. We, as I am sure others are, were impressed with how residents gave back to the community to make it a better place for all.

How nice to see it continuing and to be part of it.

Contributing Writer