While many have heard of the federal volunteer program AmeriCorps, few have heard of the work being done on a myriad of levels by the local organization UlsterCorps, founded in 2009 by Rik Flynn and Beth McLendon. Since its inception, the grassroots volunteer organization has worked to match up the right volunteer to the right project, enlisting thousands of volunteers to work directly with more than 100 local agencies and projects in Ulster County in an effort to meet the economic, environmental and social challenges facing the community. UlsterCorps has connected volunteers to help stock local food banks, provide clothing and shelter to those in need, enlist in emergency services, assist with literacy training, child and elder care, farm-to-table initiatives, animal rescue and welfare, maintenance of public trails and much more. Its motto “Have an hour? Have a day?” has certainly worked to bring in volunteers of all ages to where they are most needed.
In recognition of the organization’s contributions, Flynn, a retired teacher from the Ulster Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), was chosen for Mohonk Consultations’ prestigious 2012 Distinguished Environmental Award and honored last Thursday night in the historic parlor room at Mohonk Mountain House.
Brad Berg, a member of the Mohonk Consultations board, opened up the celebratory evening by looking back at the tradition of conferences held in that same room, inspired by the Smiley family and their Quaker values. “From 1895 through 1916, Mohonk hosted a set of conferences on international arbitration with representatives from countries around the world that helped produce the permanent World Court of Arbitration in the Hague.”
Berg went on to explain that Mohonk Consultations were formed in 1980 by Keith Smiley and others to help “find solutions for a wide range of social and environmental issues, both locally and globally.” Some of these topics have included the revitalization of the Hudson River basin, climate change, hunger in the Hudson Valley, economic summits and most recently “transition communities.”
For several years, Mohonk Consultations provided an Environmental Award to groups like Scenic Hudson or the Westchester Land Trust, but in recent years, they’ve focused on individuals who have made a significant contribution to the health and welfare of the Hudson Valley, like Laura Heady for her biodiversity work in 2011 and this year Flynn for his vision of widespread volunteerism within the County.
Ann Guenther, another member of the Mohonk Consultations Board, along with two others, presented a slideshow titled “Voices of Volunteers,” where they highlighted images of volunteers at work along with a voiceover of their experiences. “The Hudson Valley is a magical place with an abundance of local farms, arts and culture, recreational opportunities in our many protected open spaces and parks, including the magnificent Shawangunk and Catskill Mountain ranges,” said Guenther. “But it’s not always a pleasant place to live if you’re old, sick, young, handicapped, hungry, homeless, a victim of hurricanes and floods…”
From there, she highlighted the work that UlsterCorps has been doing: gleaning from local farms and then stocking food pantries with fresh produce; having teenagers from local high schools work at various soup kitchens, or interviewing and then providing videotapes of local elders on their life’s history for them and their family to have as an oral/visual heirloom; becoming members of volunteer emergency service agencies; working with both young and old who need help to gain literacy and much more.