After moving to Willow Valley in mid-2015, my wife Christine and I would often reflect on what were our most pleasant surprises upon moving here. We would have to say the gratitude and culture of volunteering and giving back displayed by the residents was our nicest surprise. Most residents, no matter what their backgrounds, feel very fortunate to live in such a wonderful community such as Willow Valley. Consequently, this gratitude seems to foster a real culture of volunteerism and a spirit of giving back to others. Residents are not only looking to help the outside community, but also help their fellow residents. The caring and helping that residents show toward each other on a one-to-one basis also creates a strong sense of family.
Before Willow Valley, volunteerism was a very important part of our lives. Once we arrived, we began researching the volunteer opportunities available to new residents. The multitude of opportunities was probably the best surprise we encountered! According to Pat Russell, manager of volunteer services at Willow Valley, there is a culture of volunteerism and helping your neighbors here in Lancaster County. With Lancaster being a small city, helping folks in our community becomes a little more personal.
Although there is substantial volunteerism within Willow Valley, residents and staff recognize the importance of becoming involved in the broader Lancaster County community. Those efforts start with Willow Valley’s Community Outreach Committee. The mission is simple: “helping children-in-need in Lancaster County”. The Willow Valley staff coordinates these programs, but Willow Valley residents provide funds and volunteer their time and services to make them work. For example, our Christmas Project in December of 2015, was able to provide 372 children-in-need with gifts for the holiday season. Our “Sneakers For Schools” project in July of 2015 was able to raise $15,825 in just 30 days and provided 603 pairs of new sneakers and socks to youngsters throughout Lancaster.
There are also programs that have been created and run by residents themselves. Although there are numerous programs out there, I will mention just a few. Residents Betty and Hank Copelman, Bill and Carol Shaffer, and Ruth Randa founded the Spring Run Food Program seven years ago. Each month residents of the Spring Run Community donate food and/or funds to four local organizations that again often emphasize children-in-need. Over the years, the program has raised over $50,000 and collected thousands of grocery bags filled with food to help the hungry in the Lancaster area. Jack White, a young 90 years old, for years has worked a huge garden space and donates most of the food he grows to the food bank. Kay Collier, another resident and former educator, began an inter-generational outreach program emphasizing school children. Her monthly Pen Pal program with 4th graders in Lancaster City each year involves about 100 students and residents, who all finally meet at an end of year luncheon sponsored by Willow Valley.
Many residents connect with the scores of outside organizations assisting others in the Lancaster area. Resident Larry Lawton, for example, not only volunteers at Lancaster General Hospital but also with the Farmland Trust helping to insure that Lancaster County remains the #1 county in the United States in preserving farmland for future generations. Almost every church, temple, and mosque in the Lancaster area has a community outreach program and many residents, like Tom Whary, are heavily involved in running those programs. Clay Burke combines his love of driving and helping others, as he volunteers for a nationwide organization called “Road to Recovery”. He provides transportation for cancer patients throughout Lancaster County to treatment centers, including many Amish. You will find Willow Valley residents volunteering with many non-profit organizations in the county.
By Dale Johnson
Dale Johnson and his wife Christine moved to Willow Valley in 2015. Dale taught geography at Towson University, while Christine was a human resources manager with McCormick & Co. the international spice company.