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September 3, 2011

Karen Moe

by ebmeier

I like being an active member of my community, instead of just passively enjoying it. And volunteering is a great way to meet my neighbors. It tickles my sense of fun and creativity to be able to create interesting spaces with things for people to look at and interact with – doing something as easy as planting a few colorful flowers by a public staircase brings so much enjoyment to others and contributes to the character of my community.”

Activities & Projects:

I started off with just one project (Fremont Peak Park) and just one activity (writing one grant application to raise money for this new neighborhood park). That was three years ago. It was so satisfying (I was helping to create a brand-new park!) that I started doing other projects and activities. But they are all related — they are all focused on creating or improving community open spaces such as parks, bicycling paths, recreational areas, and public stairways.

  1. I’m still working on the Fremont Peak Park project, by writing more of the grant applications that raise the money needed to buy the property and then design and build the park. I am also a member of the steering committee for the neighbohood volunteer group that runs the park project. We put on a big community party last year when we bought the first piece of the property. Now we’re holding community meetings to help design the park, and we have work parties on the property to clear away debris and invasive plants such as ivy and Himalayan blackberry.
  2. The neighbor who started the park project has now started a small nonprofit organization (Urban Sparks) to create and improve community open spaces everywhere in our region. I am a board member. I’m also the Treasurer – that means I do the books and the tax returns. And I help write and edit the educational materials and grant applications we prepare. Soon I’ll get to help “test drive” the new mountain biking skills trail that Urban Sparks has helped to build, in a new city park. It will be the very first mountain biking trail in a city.
  3. My New Year’s resolution this year was to “adopt” a public stairway in my neighborhood. I pick up the trash along it once a week, and sweep away the leaves. This weekend I attached a small trash can to the railing, which I’ll empty during my weekly visit. I hope people use it. This weekend I also planted 32 primrose plants along the stairs. This is a really fun project. The stairs look so dramatically better. And yet it only takes me about 30 minutes a week to do the work.

Reason for Volunteering

There are so many reasons! I like being an active member of my community, instead of just passively enjoying it. And volunteering is a great way to meet my neighbors. It tickles my sense of fun and creativity to be able to create interesting spaces with things for people to look at and interact with — doing something as easy as planting a few colorful flowers by a public staircase brings so much enjoyment to others and contributes to the character of my community. The most important reason I volunteer, though, is much more personal. Doing the work and seeing the results is incredibly satisfying. Feeling that I’m making a positive difference in the world is one of things that gives my life meaning. Without the richness and fulfillment I get from this work, it would be easy to be overwhelmed by the bad news and cynicism that seems to be a daily part of our world. And one last thing – I am the lucky favorite aunt of my 13-year old nephew, who lives 15 miles away. In some mysterious way, I’ve become one of his role models. So I make a point of telling him about the fun I have with my volunteer work. I show him work in progress, and ask for his ideas about it. One of the best parts for him, though, is using the Nifty Nabber to help me pick up the trash from the public staircase I’ve “adopted”.

Inspired By

My inspiration has come mostly from a few individuals, which is why I take so seriously my function as a role model for my nephew.

My friend Meredith quit her job at age 51 to join the Peace Corps. She is now back at her regular job again but still finds time to volunteer with a hospice home-visit program. Her stories are moving. It is obvious that her volunteer work is a rich source of strength, purpose, and satisfaction in her life.

My now-deceased work colleague Larry did hands-on volunteering as a scientist for the Sierra Club for decades. After he retired, he helped start a new public library in a small town in the Upper Skagit Valley and helped countless neighbors with his workshop (which was bigger than his house!). He did these things in a unassuming, matter-of-fact way – to him, taking care of the environment and taking care of each other were just another part of what everyday life is all about.

My friend Jack saw a small piece of property for sale in our neighborhood and decided that its fabulous view and unusual number of native evergreen trees should be preserved as a public park for everyone to enjoy instead of being subdivided and developed into a few mega-houses with “No Trespassing” signs. He has worked tirelessly for the last 3 years: finding an “angel” to buy the property and keep it off the market; pulling together a group of fellow volunteers to raise the money to buy it for the city; and now participating in the public process of designing the park. This park project is what got me hooked on volunteering (see below), and it is in no small part because of Jack’s example and his inspirational, rousing, words about making the world a better place.

Her Story

I live in a quirky, interesting, community that is the first place I’ve ever lived as an adult where I felt truly at home. After living here for 10 years, I decided I wanted to actively contribute to my neighborhood instead of just passively enjoying the fun, work, and art created by others who live here. And I hadn’t met as many of my neighbors as I wanted to. As a life-long renter of apartments with no yard, I had developed a habit of talking long walks through all the nooks and crannies of my community. I became very appreciative of open spaces, public art, and parks in dense urban environments like mine. They provide community character, gathering places, opportunities for enjoyment of beauty and nature and the seasons, and a peaceful oasis for contemplation away from the everyday busy world.

One day there was a flyer in the lobby of my apartment building, announcing a public meeting to discuss the possibility of a new neighborhood park. It also announced an open house at the potential park site. I was curious about this new park, and this seemed like a good way to “get my feet wet”, to find out about ways I could get involved in my community. I went to the open house, and was overwhelmed with the beauty and potential of the property. The community members holding the open house were friendly and welcoming. I surprised myself by writing a $100 check on the spot (a large amount for me) and volunteering to help write grants to buy the property. Now I’ve been on the Steering Committee for the park for two years! And I’ve helped a friend on the Steering Committee create a new nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and facilitating open spaces and public art in all communities.

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