Ron Thompson

How volunteering sustains communities

By Ron Thompson

Joining a focused volunteer project can enrich your life and your community.

Looking for another way to beat the winter doldrums? Give back to your community!

For 16 years I have lived in Haverhill, Mass. a mill city of about 60,000 residents on the Merrimack River. Once known as "The Queen Slipper City" (one of every 10 shoes made in America was manufactured there), Haverhill has also seen more than its share of hardship over the years.

Team Haverhill logoIn the dead of winter several years back, I decided to join Team Haverhill, an independent, volunteer action group dedicated to making the city a better place to live, learn, work and play. It has been so rewarding to witness this relatively small group of people accomplish some great things, including a revitalized farmer's market, refurbished playgrounds in some of the city's lowest-income neighborhoods, and "River Ruckus," a summer festival that reconnects residents to the Merrimack.

We learned early on that it's easy for people to see the big changes the city needs (and even easier for some of them to argue that they will never happen). Team Haverhill has learned to focus its energy on the small steps we can take today to begin moving toward those longer-term goals.

For Team Haverhill's 10-year anniversary, we launched the "10 for 10" initiative, 10 small service or beautification projects that can be accomplished with a little bit of time (one day or less) and a little bit of money ($150 or less). Removing invasive plants along the Merrimack and erecting a new Haverhill veterans sign at our Hillside Avenue cemetery are two examples.

Pine Grove Co-op residents stand at new school bus stop

The members of Pine Grove Cooperative in West Swanzey built a bus stop so children wouldn't wait for the school bus on a busy road.

We also look to connect with other nonprofits and local organizations, and keep things flexible. Team Haverhill's volunteers can be as engaged or as limited as they want. Our accomplishments may seem limited in scope, but because of our efforts and the work of many other local organizations and of state and city government, including the tireless efforts of our longtime mayor, James Fiorentini, Wikipedia states that Haverhill has "undergone a Renaissance" in the 21st century.

What can you do in 2015 to make your community, neighborhood or cooperative a better, more-connected, more-enjoyable place? Check out what the members of Pine Grove MHP Cooperative in West Swanzey, N.H. accomplished in their community.

To quote anthropologist Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Ron Thompson is a Welcome Home Loans Mortgage Loan Originator at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.

NMLS #225348. Licensed by the New Hampshire Banking Department.