Volunteerism, service to others are among Orleans County’s strongest assets

Posted 15 June 2017 at 9:49 am


This is the first of a two-part personal perspective on Orleans County’s assets. Assets are things that have value and are advantageous to those who possess them. Reflected upon, this assessment may be troubling for those who want what is best for our community.

Several years ago, the Ulster County Office for the Aging Director, Ann Cardinale, called me to learn more about the Albion Betterment Committee’s senior gas pumping service. Her idea was to get it going in Ulster.  A bit of our background followed.

“How much do you pay your volunteers?” was one of her early questions. As everyone reading this might, I did my best to respond seriously to what really was a shocking question. When I said they were volunteers and we don’t pay them, she actually said, “Oh, go on”.

“Where do they get the money for the rebates?” was her next question. In retrospect, I am sure it may have sounded flippant, but I told her, “They get it out of their pockets”.  Incredulous, she told me, “I don’t believe you”.

My guess is that hundreds of Orleans volunteers would not find our conversation so shocking. Orleans County is “different”, and that can be a plus.

At the end of our conversation, the director said, “You have a very caring community”.

We do, but it is being subverted, even though it should not be allowed to wither and die. Neither should it be disregarded, nor given away or sold. And neither should our collective assets. I guess no-one intends to sell—or give away—assets such as our public schools and libraries the way we did our County Nursing Home. But there is too much indifference to the future of our only hospital and our extraordinary volunteer fire companies. We are either squandering—or failing to capitalize on—others as well.

Any attempt to enumerate the extent of Orleans County volunteerism would be daunting. No single person has an adequate comprehension of everything people here do for those needing help. Volunteer fire companies are one of the best examples. Church groups are important pieces of what may literally be a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.  Benefits, basket raffles and runs are indicative. But compiling a comprehensive list of all that is quietly done would take a lot of time and research.

Nonetheless, having an awareness of how giving so many County residents are has enormous potential to positively affect spirits. Limited though it may be for each of us, knowing that we are surrounded with so much unofficial compassion may be life-altering once internalized.

Orleans County also is blessed with loads of meaningful history. That is coming from one appreciates the value of history but doesn’t know the half of it.

We are favored with a rich and diverse environment that includes numerous streams, wetlands, a canal, many quarries, farm ponds, and productive farmlands, as well as wooded areas and proximity to Lake Ontario. Wildlife diversity necessarily follows. Four-footed animals are common Statewide, but many are abundant to the point of being nuisances here. Winged diversity varies more county to county. Our birdlife may be unusually diverse, and a real asset.

Among our less well-recognized—and most secure—advantages is location. Orleans County is within an hour of two urban areas with all that they have to offer. For example, the center of Orleans County can be just 45 minutes from Strong Memorial Hospital.

It is nonetheless remote and decidedly rural, with less congestion, more solitude, a slower pace, arguably greater freedom, and a population with numerous people who know a significant portion of County residents by their first names.

Some of our assets can be squandered. Some appear secure. There are others that can be mismanaged. It may be possible to betray the asset that is, arguably, the soul of the Orleans Community.

That asset may be described variously. The Ulster County Office for the Aging Director may have put it fairly concisely when she described ours as a “very caring community”.  I suspect that caring is related to how interconnected we are, as well as to our familiarity with each other.

Official actions taken in the past ten years have, in many ways, betrayed our very close-knit community.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Kent