Hundreds of local residents and workers volunteer thousands of hours to maintain and improve our neighborhoods and communities, but their contributions tend to be overlooked.
It’s easy to ignore the valuable work that our neighbors perform, with little acknowledgement or thanks. If they stopped volunteering, however, our community would lose many vital services and be less desirable. Since this is the time of year when people think about giving and helping others, it is a good time to acknowledge how much we all benefit from these wonderful people’s efforts.
City services and operations get a surprising amount of volunteer support. Hundreds of volunteers contribute over 5,000 hours per year in our libraries shelving books, entering new books into the system, helping with programs, organizing periodicals, and other duties.
Other volunteers ride along with police, act as community crime watchers, keep neighborhoods informed about safety issues, even help with clerical tasks. The Emergency Preparedness Committee has many volunteers who work with police and fire departments and neighborhood associations to make the community safer and more resilient to disasters.
Some 115 volunteers serve on various boards like the Architectural Review Board and Historic Review Board, or commissions like the Planning and Transportation Commission, Public Art Commission and Library Commission, Youth Council, or Mediation Task Force. Special committees like the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Task Force have over a dozen members who each spent hundreds of hours on the program.
Then there are the neighborhood associations like Palo Alto Neighborhoods, Barron Park Association, Midtown, Charleston Meadows, and Duvenick-St. Francis that would disappear if the volunteers who are their heart and soul stopped providing vital support. Other volunteers lend invaluable support to the PTA, Scouts, seniors, Junior Museum and Zoo, Art Center, and local business associations. These organizations and many others depend on active involvement and support from volunteers.
Many public-private partnerships have developed from volunteers and volunteer-supported organizations. These interactions make government and residents working partners in preserving, protecting, and enhancing our community. A few recent examples are the millions raised by the Library Foundation for equipment and furniture in our renovated and expanded libraries, and the millions raised by the Art Center Foundation to expand and renovate the Art Center.
Retaining volunteers and keeping volunteer-run organizations functional and successful is never easy. A number of neighborhood associations became inactive in the past decade when key members left or no longer could participate, leaving unfilled voids.
Various neighborhood associations and community groups have vanished because the volunteers that operated them either got tired and dropped out, had other pressing issues to address, moved away, or died. Constant infusions of new volunteers are needed to maintain or expand the benefits of volunteer activities. For example, for 11 years the Barron Park Association sponsored a holiday party with the donkeys and carolers marching and singing through the neighborhood to Barron Park School, and the Gunn Choir performing there. This year the organizer withdrew to spend more time with family, and the event died.
Our community and city organizations need the support of residents and business owners volunteering their time and effort to make Palo Alto better, more responsive, and government more efficient. Take the time and effort to volunteer doing something you enjoy, improving services or projects you value, meeting and working with neighbors, city staff, and other residents for the betterment of everyone. We all will benefit from your efforts.