Annual MLK Day Celebration of Service on January 14 honors Ulster County volunteers

Esther Taylor-Evans and Rita Worthington at last year’s UlsterCorps MLK Day Celebration of Service. This year’s event will take place on January 14 at the Rosendale Recreation Center. (photo by Ilene Cutler)

Volunteers are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization, and their contributions deserve to be recognized. So every winter, UlsterCorps — a countywide “matchmaking” resource of sorts that connects volunteers with the nonprofits that need them — holds a party to thank all volunteers in Ulster County for their service (whether or not they volunteered through UlsterCorps). At the same time, the mid-January timing of the event places it in proximity with Martin Luther King Day, which highlights the spirit of service to others embodied in King’s legacy, and perhaps encourages a few new people to get involved.

UlsterCorps’ ninth annual MLK Day Celebration of Service will be held on Sunday, January 14 from 3-6 p.m. at the Rosendale Recreation Center. (Monday, January 15 is the snow date.) Attendees will enjoy live music by Reggie Earls & The Pearls — a mix of gospel and other soul-stirring selections — along with delicious food provided by local restaurants and a raffle of prizes donated by local businesses. Each volunteer attending will receive a free raffle ticket at the door to put in a container next to whatever item they’re interested in.

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Admission is free and open to volunteers from every nonprofit in Ulster County. And that really does mean every volunteer who offered their time and talents in the county this year, says UlsterCorps co-founder and director Beth McLendon. “They’re absolutely welcome, whether they volunteered through us or not. And they’re welcome to bring their friends and families. We do recognize that for some of the most dedicated volunteers, it can take you away from your family sometimes, so we really want them to come along and join the celebration of their friend or family member’s service.”

Even a party like the annual MLK Day Celebration of Service needs volunteers to keep things rolling at the event, so a cadre of student volunteers will be on hand to run things so the volunteers being honored can have the day off. “These young people all end up telling us after the event that they’re just amazed at all the ways there are for people to volunteer,” says McLendon. “And it really is a wonderful thing to see all the people at the party from different walks of life who provide different kinds of service for our beloved community.”

That connecting of people from many different backgrounds is really at the heart of UlsterCorps, she adds. There are so many ways people can volunteer and such a range of service opportunities that it’s really about finding the right placement for people who want to volunteer.

Their interactive map on the website — at www.ulstercorps.org — makes volunteering more accessible. It’s easy to see which opportunities are closest to home, and there are long-term opportunities as well as single-day events listed. For example, a nonprofit holding a fundraiser will find they need extra volunteers for just that one event, but those positions can be hard to fill without a resource like UlsterCorps to provide that central place where people can find them, says McLendon.

Students looking to fulfill community service hours or families looking to do a service project with the kids for the weekend will find those opportunities on the website, as will weekenders in the county for a more limited time. Sometimes people want to volunteer their time but aren’t quite sure what opportunities would suit them best, or even what opportunities are out there, so the map helps determine those things, too.

And trying out an opportunity through UlsterCorps can open the door to a person finding a real passion, points out McLendon, enriching their life and encouraging them to continue to volunteer for that organization. “It’s a good way to make that first connection.”

First-time volunteers might be surprised at the range of opportunities available. Short-term, there are those fundraising festivals and 5K runs that need just a few hours of someone’s time, and longer-term there are educational positions at museums and cultural centers and mentoring activities in technology and literacy. One can work with animals, help out at Mohonk Preserve or provide service to seniors.

One of the projects UlsterCorps is particularly excited about at this time is The UlsterCorps Glean Team, which collects excess fresh foods that would otherwise go to waste from farms, gardens, farmers’ markets, grocers and restaurants. In collaboration with the Rondout Valley Growers Association’s Farm and Food Pantry Program and Family of Woodstock, UlsterCorps volunteers help out with weekly gleanings at local farms throughout the growing season and deliver the produce to those in need.

Volunteers enjoying the MLK Day Celebration of Service next Sunday will include the man behind the live entertainment for the day. Reggie Earls is on the board of Angel Food East in Kingston [which delivers hot meals to the chronically ill and housebound], a volunteer for Family of Woodstock and a church organist. “He’s a man with many skills,” says McLendon. “He’s a dedicated volunteer and really embodies the spirit of service.”

The event is usually held on a Saturday, so it’s worth noting again that this year’s party is on a Sunday. After utilizing different locations over the years, the Rosendale Recreation Center turned out to be the ideal location to hold the event last year, McLendon says, so when the facility was only available on Sunday this year organizers decided to switch the day. Ample parking is available. The Rosendale Chamber of Commerce is helping sponsor the cost of using the venue.

The Rosendale Recreation Center is located at 1055 Route 32 in Rosendale. To RSVP, sponsor the event or donate a raffle prize, e-mail volunteer@ulstercorps.org or call/text (845) 481-0331. Those who wish to have their name and the nonprofit where they volunteer included in the event program should RSVP by January 10.

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