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ARISE Regional Director Kate Budlong stands in the personal care bank room at ARISE Cayuga/Seneca's office space on Lincoln Street in Auburn in November 2017.

April is National Volunteer Month, a time dedicated to recognizing the important contributions of the volunteers in our communities and a time to encourage volunteerism.

For many, volunteering starts at an early age. Scouts are involved in a variety of community service projects. Students may spend a part of their summer doing good works locally or afar. Congregations engage all family members, helping strengthen community bonds. And, in many families, volunteering is something that follows from one generation to the next.

Since childhood, Kate Budlong has been participating in the Angel Tree Project with her family. Now, she and her husband, Earl, are continuing that tradition of giving back with their children Della (6) and Daelyn (3). They think it’s important to them, with opportunities to understand the world beyond their everyday experiences. It helps build character strengths like compassion and empathy.

Each year they have their kids pick a paper angel off the Angel Tree. “They pick a child their age to shop for and spend an evening shopping and wrapping. One of the best parts is delivering the gifts. No matter how much these families feel blessed, my family always feels more blessed being able to help. Seeing the joy in my kids’ eyes when they have the opportunity to make another child smile is priceless," Kate said.

She continued, "All children have such capacity for empathy when given real life opportunities to experience it and it’s a blessing as parent to provide them through volunteerism.” She sees holiday-based volunteerism as a great way to introduce kids to volunteering and to make it a tradition. It’s also perfect for busy parents of young kids, as you can commit without feeling overwhelmed. She thinks of it as “gateway volunteering.”

Michelle Barber’s professional career introduced her to the rewards of volunteering. She noted that in her role as a banker, being involved in one’s community is expected. Yet for her, it’s so much more — and very personal.

She joined her first board in Cayuga County in 2003 when Five Star Bank was new to the community. Today, Michelle is involved with Literacy Volunteers of Cayuga County, the Auburn Housing Development Corporation, the Auburn Rotary Club and the Leadership Cayuga advisory board. Recently, she finished chairing the United Way’s 2018-2019 annual campaign.

“If people don’t support their communities, they won’t grow or flourish,” Michelle said. While working on the campaign, she said, she saw the community in a new way and it was very rewarding to interact not only with the service providers, but the donors who support them as well. Her board service allows her to offer her skills and expertise to causes she is passionate about. She said volunteering is about that feel-good feeling that you get deep inside when you’ve done something unselfish, something that helps someone out or something that helps an organization grow.

Flora Dailey fondly remembers Matthew House getting started: “I was fortunate enough to work with the fine group of people that created Matthew House. That will always be one of my greatest volunteering achievements. It took a lot of work to create a home where people could come to in the last stage of their life to feel loved, protected and as pain-free as possible, while also giving support to their families.”

A retired nurse, she helped with the caregiving and teaching volunteers. One of her most memorable and unforgettable patients was one of the first residents. She said that individual taught them all.

Flora recalled that the woman was being taken care of by her teenage son, and could no longer safely stay at home. “You could immediately feel their relief when she moved in," Flora said.

Her son wanted to be there as much as he could, and they let him. They fed him, washed his clothes and made sure he got to and from school.

When she heard Flora’s birthday was coming, she wanted to buy her a gift. Flora responded by telling her, “The best gift you can give me is to go to heaven and tell my mother that I love her.” The woman died on Flora’s birthday.

Flora is proud of how successful Matthew House has become: “I have met so many wonderful people through my years of volunteering, and for me it has been so rewarding — I feel I receive much more than I give.”

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. When they pick a cause, they make a difference in someone else’s life, as well as their own. What can you do?

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Karen A. Macier, of Auburn, has spent 20 years working and volunteering in the not-for-profit sector.

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