Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Judging by the number of residents who post in their local Facebook groups asking for ideas of places to do volunteer work, it would seem that UlsterCorps is still one of our region’s best-kept secrets. It’s a shame, because not every county can boast such a valuable and targeted resource. This not-for-profit organization doesn’t even occupy a physical storefront or office; it’s simply and brilliantly focused on its mission of being a clearinghouse where charities in need of volunteers and people with time and energy to give back to their communities can easily find one another. Whether what you have to offer is a single free afternoon, two weeks of school break or one day a week indefinitely, you’ll find a good match and a warm welcome at www.ulstercorps.org.
To ensure that volunteers feel appreciated, UlsterCorps hosts an annual Celebration of Service event on the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that fêtes all volunteers in the County who wish to attend, along with their families. In other words, you don’t need to have hooked up with your not-for-profit beneficiary of choice through UlsterCorps; its organizers don’t even need to know what you do, how often or for whom. They do ask that you register in advance, if possible, so that they know how much food to prepare. Yes, there’s a free meal – along with live music, a raffle, speeches praising volunteers, networking, general conviviality and fun.
This year’s MLK Day Celebration of Service takes place from noon to 2 p.m. this Saturday, January 14 at the usual venue: the Rosendale Recreation Center, located at 1055 Route 32 in Rosendale. Performers this year will include Kingston’s New Progressive Baptist Church Choir, whose soul-stirring gospel music is a regular feature of these events, as well as Love Is Love, a world-music ensemble led by Fre Atlast. Known as the queen of drum circles and alt-marching bands, Fre has been a role model for volunteerism since the days when she was a prime mover in the preservation of the threatened Rosendale Theatre.
Happening annually since 2009, except for the first year of COVID, these volunteer events are “how we sort of launched UlsterCorps, actually,” says Beth Albright, the organization’s director and co-founder. “It began more as a day of service. We started off doing service projects around the county for various not-for-profits. Then we spent a few years getting deeply involved in emergency preparedness with the Ulster County Disaster Response and Recovery Committee, and starting up the Glean Team with the Farm to Food Pantry Collaborative.”
According to Albright, the first few volunteer recognition days were held in September, but organizers quickly found that there was too much competition that month from events hosted by other not-for-profits. She credits Sam Magarelli of the Woodstock Volunteers’ Day Committee for suggesting, “Why don’t you do it in January?” Linking the recognition event to Dr. King’s commitment to the ideals of voluntary community service made perfect sense, and now it has become an upbeat highlight of a time of year when many people are feeling a sense of post-holiday letdown.
The MLK Day Celebration of Service was called off in 2021 for obvious reasons involving the need for social distancing, but, says Albright, “Last year we did a drive-through event, where we gave out a goodie bag. This year we’re doing a hybrid event, offering both a sit-down meal and to-go boxes.” Although no one is ever turned away at the door, the need to have enough takeout meals prepared makes it particularly important this year to register if you plan to attend. You can e-mail email@example.com, call/text (845) 481-0331 or sign up on the webpage at www.ulstercorps.org/events/mlk-day-celebration-of-service-3. Celebrants are asked to indicate whether they plan to stay for lunch or want a box to go – and if the latter, whether you’re bringing your own tiffin or need a (compostable) takeout container.
Also invited to participate in this event are organizations in need of volunteers and folks looking for places to offer their services, including businesses that provide their employees paid days off to do community service. New collaborations are always welcome. “There will be volunteer coordinators coming,” Albright notes. “We have some hopes of finding new volunteers, or at least getting the word out.”