Niskayuna group pushes volunteer awards program

Helping an elderly neighbor maintain her home, spending hours with patients at an area hospital, or reaching out to a community group that needs a hand with fundraising. These are all examples of the type of extra effort and volunteerism that can really make a difference in the quality of life we all share.

They are also examples of the activities that can qualify a Niskayuna resident to receive an award from the President's Volunteer Service Program, a nationwide initiative that's been going strong for years. Locally administered by the Niskayuna Community Action Program (N-CAP), the initiative has helped generate thousands of hours in local volunteer services since it began, according to Cheryl Adamec, an N-CAP spokeswoman. Every year, we see hundreds of hours of community and volunteer services being performed by dedicated people from throughout Niskayuna, Adamec said.

Originally the national award program was targeted to those under 25 years old and awards could only be given to individuals for their efforts. But all that changed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center as policymakers sought to encourage expanded volunteer activities. Since then, in addition to individual awards, family and group activities are also being recognized.

One local example from Niskayuna last year was the high school girls field hockey team, a group that joined in efforts ranging from car washes to a fundraising run against ovarian cancer.

"This award isn't limited to just individuals; instead, people can volunteer as a group, the way the girl's field hockey team did last year, or as a family," explained Carol Mondello, incoming co-president of N-CAP. "Some of the girls also did things on their own that added to list of activities and the total number of hours that counted towards the group's activities.

"And the family option really makes a lot of sense because it is very unlikely that a six- or seven-year-old would volunteer a lot of time on their own, but when you are doing it together as a family, they can join in and be a part of it," Mondello said. "That gives everyone an opportunity to be a part of this. And it really can make a difference in their lives.

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