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Posted: April 30, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Volunteers and fairies-at-heart

There's one thing in particular that amazes me about living in Covington: That's the number of volunteers and volunteer-based organizations that are at work in this community year 'round. Among our friends, all are volunteering somewhere. It can become a way of life. It's been in my blood for years since I was invited onto the board of the Atlanta Community Food Bank and worked the check-out register in its cavernous food warehouse.

This is National Volunteer Week, an appropriate time to recognize the volunteers who people this community and who make things happen that public funds - or the lack thereof - could never accomplish.

I say often with feeling and confidence that Covington, Newton County and its municipalities are a volunteer-driven community. Volunteers and the organizations they serve give this community texture, vitality, color and hope and create meaningful and sometimes fun ways to fulfill needs in our midst. They turn lives around or save them, build community spirit and awareness and show us how much more can be accomplished by working together. FaithWorks, for example, has unified 35 churches to provide emergency rent and utility assistance.

The Newton Fund of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta recently surveyed 24 local nonprofits about volunteerism. Of those 24, 12 had at least 50 volunteers donating time every week. The number of volunteer hours logged weekly ranged from 10 to over 80 hours.

Volunteering one's time has an economic impact. Many people give money to favorite causes, but giving time might be even more valuable and is, in itself, a form of philanthropy. (If you're a volunteer, feel free to call yourself a philanthropist, a term more regularly applied to the likes of Bill Gates.) According to Independent Sector, a prominent consortium of national nonprofits and foundations, an hour of volunteer time is worth $20.85. Local nonprofits estimated the value of their volunteers in sums ranging from $2,000 to six figures up to $1,000,000 per year.

One of the local nonprofits with which I am most familiar is Friends of Newton Parks, Inc. It‘s a group with plans to develop the urban woodland behind the Newton County Library - Chimney Park - with elements for people of all ages and abilities to be able to enjoy an outdoor experience, to connect with Mother Nature for all the benefits that research has proven. (A disclaimer: I am currently vice-chair of the Friends board.)

This is one of the busiest times of the year over at Chimney Park. Tomorrow marks the second annual Fairy Houses at Chimney Park where "kids" of all ages, many in themed costumes, will turn out to view an amazing array of hand-made fairy houses built of all natural materials and to enjoy storytelling near a fairy ring, refreshments, crafts, a wildlife exhibit and a maypole dance. Last year, the event drew some 1,500 attendees. All raffle and silent auction proceeds will boost the park coffers. The event itself is free. Hmmmm, sounds like a great place to take the family, right?

Well let me tell you that it takes some very creative, dedicated, hard-working, behind-the-scenes "fairies- at-heart" to pull off such an event. Laundry doesn't get done, mail goes unopened, whole living rooms get converted into fairy workshops, meals - who has time? Some of these "fairies" are walking around with scars and blisters from the hot glue guns used in making many of the houses. At the park itself, these windy days create an ever accumulating pile of debris that needs to be collected and hauled off by volunteers. There's emerging poison ivy to be sprayed. Volunteers are at work today and tomorrow morning hanging butterfly wings and wind chimes, blowing up balloons, erecting the maypole, setting up craft tables, chairs and tents and installing signage. More volunteers will show up for show time at 2 p.m. to lead the scavenger hunt, sell raffle tickets, staff the craft tables, hand out refreshments, tell the stories and organize the maypole dance.

Please come and enjoy yourselves, but be aware of the unnamed fairy volunteers lurking in the woods who did all this for you.

Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington. Her column appears every other Friday.


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