Columns 2015

Volunteering… not just for the holidays

It’s been a hard few weeks here in America. Mass murders seem to happen almost daily. Against all common sense, some people still think Donald Trump is not only a viable presidential candidate but also an actual compassionate human being. The whole world truly seems to be spinning out of control. Given the rapid approach of the holiday season, I thought it would be best to look for something positive to write about that promotes the message that good, kind and compassionate people still exist. I found it at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center.

Hiland Mountain is the proud home of the only women’s prison orchestra in the country, an orchestra that is built on volunteerism, donations, love and dedication to the idea that music has power to soothe our souls no matter how dark our world seems.

Many of the women playing at the holiday concert last Saturday had never held a musical instrument in their lives until they picked up one in prison. Many have never known the joy of sticking to a goal no matter how hard.  Now, as they lift their bows to their violins in front of an audience that includes friends, relatives and state officials, they take a big, brave step into a world where they can succeed because they did the work.

Kudos to the people who organize this program every year, to the people who go to the prison every week to hold rehearsals and teach women how to make beautiful sounds come out of difficult looking instruments. Kudos to Hiland Mountain staff and administrators who not only allow this concert to happen annually but actively support it. There is no way this is an easy event to pull off. Everyone who wants to buy a ticket has to send in their name and driver license number prior to the performance so they can be vetted. Guards need to be at every door. Instruments have to be brought in and cleared. I can’t imagine what this does to the daily schedule at the prison. But whatever it takes, staff go the distance to make it happen.

So in this holiday season when every day seems to bring news of a new atrocity somewhere in the world, we should take heart from the fact that kindness and caring are still around in abundance. There are still good people who want to bring light to a sometimes dark world. Volunteers take joy in making their world a little better, kinder and gentler for those who often can’t do it for themselves.

I think the greatest thing about being a volunteer is carrying the spirit of the holiday season throughout the year. While many people may give a day to help out at a shelter, or write a check for a few extra bucks to a charity during the holiday, once the season ends people go back to their usual routine and often don’t think about people and animals in need until the next holiday.

Volunteers are the ones who carry the spirit of the holiday season in their hearts and actions on a year round basis. They know that hunger doesn’t disappear on January 1 and every animal in need of shelter will not be housed by then either. So they keep going.

I encourage everyone reading this to try volunteering on a year round basis and not just during the holiday. Bring you family along. Rip that cell phone out of your children’s hands and introduce them to the real world of year round need. They’ll be better for it and you will have raised children who become admirable adults. Compassion is not just in style during the holidays.

Finally, in the spirit of the season, if you have any violins lying around your house because your child decided that they never wanted to use it again after they stopped taking lessons, the prison orchestra is looking for any and all donations of that instrument. Go to their website at to find out how to donate your instrument, time or money.

Seems to me that giving to someone less fortunate is a better definition of this season than crowds assaulting each other on Black Friday in a greedy frenzy. Try it. You might just rediscover what this whole holiday is supposed to be about.