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For some Columbus-area families, volunteerism is a family value that’s passed down through the generations.

Tom and Mary Weiss introduced their sons Michael, 18, and Kyle, 15, to volunteering 10 years ago, wanting them to understand the importance of giving back to the community through helping others.

Helping others is something the Weisses grew up with, having watched their parents helping neighbors and those less fortunate. The couple said they instill in their sons that there’s a need year-round for families and organizations in the community, whether it is a natural disaster, such as the flood of 2008, or donating to exhausted food banks that need replenishing.

“We experienced a pride and satisfaction in giving and helping others when we grew up,” Mary Weiss said. “We want our kids to have that same, very rewarding experience.”

The Weiss family regularly volunteers with the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center and St. Bartholomew Catholic Church. In the past, they also have been involved with Bartholomew County Little League, Habitat for Humanity and their sons’ schools. On average, the family volunteers 10 hours each month.

“Personally, I always feel good that I’m able to help,” Tom Weiss said. “I like to help people, no matter what the situation is.”

To solve the conundrum of what to buy for family members who are difficult to shop for during the holidays, Mary Weiss’ side of the family donates the money they’d spend instead. She said it averages out to about $30 per person and supports a good cause.

“We pool our funds, and donate to whoever’s house hosts at Christmas,” Mary Weiss said. “My sister lives in Indianapolis, so when she hosts Christmas, she gets to choose what organization the funds go to. When we host Christmas, we’ll choose an organization or cause in our community.”

When parents introduce their children to volunteering at a young age, the child is more accepting of others who might be different than themselves, said Diane Doup, community outreach coordinator for the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center. Children who volunteer also understand the value of reaching out to help those who are less fortunate.

“Volunteering becomes second-nature and a regular part of their lives,” Doup said. “A culture of caring is developed that can last a lifetime.”

Michael Weiss believes that for many people, it is just a matter of making time to volunteer.

“We live in a very fast-paced world where there are a lot of folks who are dealt cards that aren’t quite as good as the rest,” Michael Weiss said. “I believe everyone would like to help, but their schedules might not comply, or they don’t want to step out of the norm.”

He said he’s enjoyed meeting so many people and has learned so much by volunteering that it’s something he definitely will continue.

One misconception people often have about volunteering is that it’s time-consuming or difficult, Doup said. In fact, there are “endless ways” people can volunteer and have fun doing it.

“Sure, some take specific skills, but not all,” Doup said. “Children and adults of all ages have gifts they can share through volunteering.”

An accurate description for the Weisses, that also is the case with the Douglas family.

Shortly after moving to Columbus in the late 1990s, Jacque Douglas and her daughters, Lisa Pierce and Allison Conrad, began volunteering in the community. As principal of Lincoln Elementary School, Douglas was introduced to Doup at the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center and immediately began a discussion about getting involved with the organization.

Since her daughters were young, they’d always accompanied Douglas when she volunteered. Whether it was a fundraiser for the Parent Teacher Organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters or 4-H, the girls were always anxious to emulate their mother. Volunteering quickly became the norm for them and has carried over into their adult lives.

“I see it as an obligation as a human to help your community and make it better,” 36-year-old Conrad said. “It’s not something I think about, it’s just something I do.”

Now that Douglas’ daughters are grown, the tradition of volunteering includes her two sons-in-law and five grandchildren. Douglas said when the grandchildren, who range from 4 to 11 years old, come to spend a week with her, they participate in some kind of philanthropic activity, such as helping plant flowers at LCNFC or sorting items for the Community School Supply Assistance Program.

Douglas, who volunteers an average of 10 to 12 hours per month, encourages everyone to reach out and volunteer with causes they’re interested in. Looking back, she said her daughters’ exposure to volunteering quickly evolved and became something they’re now passing on to their children.

“I want to set a good example for my children,” 43-year-old Pierce said. “I don’t want them to think of helping others as something laborious, but as being fun. When my daughters say that they want to help, I know that the seeds of giving are being nurtured.”

Appreciative of the Weiss and Douglas families’ assistance, Doup said she admires their excitement and consistent willingness to be of help “whenever, wherever and with whatever.

“Helping others is one of the greatest things we can do,” Doup said. “Our community is rich with people who have amazing gifts. By utilizing these talents that exist in our community, we enrich our offerings to others.”

Volunteer opportunities

For information about volunteer opportunities in the Columbus area, contact:

United Way of Bartholomew County Volunteer Action Center

Address: 1531 13th St. Suite 1100

Information: 314-2706 or visit uwbarthco.org

Eastside Community Center

Address: 421 McClure Rd.

Information: 376-7840 or visit eastcc.org

Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center

Address: 1039 Sycamore St.

Information: 379-1630 or visit lcnfc.org

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