By Guest Columnist, Heather Vose, HR Training Coordinator
When a business supports and encourages their employees to volunteer, the most amazing results happen. Communities are built, team goals are achieved, and the sense of community spreads. This past month, I was inspired to join fellow employee, Charlene Cates, along with our families and friends and boarded a plane on the mission to extend our passion for community.
A few miles inland from the Yukon River in the State of Alaska, over 500 residents call St. Mary's village their home. The village isn’t much different than many of the rural areas that many of us call home: Cutler, Beals, Danforth, Swans Island, Mariaville, and Winter Harbor; except that St. Mary’s, which is considered a bush village, is only assessable by boat or by air.
The villagers’ struggles aren’t unique but widespread. They face many of same struggles we do with substance abuse, economic instability, isolation, harsh weather conditions and dependence on natural resources to make a living. Along with our similar struggles, we also share deeply imbedded values, primarily pride in the communities we call home and a desire to make a difference.
Myself, and my family of 5, along with 20 other Down Easters, traveled to Soldotna, Alaska on a short term mission trip to help build a dormitory at a small Christian college. The college is a haven for Native Alaskans to empower them through biblically based education to pursue excellence in character, learning, and service that will enable them to make a difference in the life of their native villages. The college provides Associate's degrees and partners with neighboring Kenai Peninsula College to expand students' career choices.
That’s where I met Sarah, a 100% Yup'ik proud native Alaskan. She is an almost 19 year old with a gentle spirit and a genuine smile, and that's when the trip became personal to me. We shared common life experiences despite the differences in our age. She sang to me in her native tongue and shared about her rich culture. When I asked what her plans were for the future, she said, “I’d like to visit other places and experience new things but Alaska is my home!” I found that no matter where you live, life’s struggles don’t discriminate and that each of us has a desire to live a better life and that looks a little different for each person.
I was able to take this life changing trip in part because of the support of my employer Machias Savings Bank. The Bank gives each employee 20 hours of paid community service during work hours. The bank encourages employees to serve in ways that are meaningful to them, where they can have the biggest impact, and pursue their passions.
Through my experience, I brought back many life lessons that impact my daily work experience in Human Resources. I gained new leadership skills and more importantly a fresh perspective on myself and my ability to empathize with others. I learned that when you decide to serve your community, and put your heart into it, you learn a great deal about yourself in the process. These lessons have increased my desire to make a difference in my own community.
Sarah and I may live over 4,600 miles apart, but with the benefits of technology we communicate as if she was in the next room. And someday, she may visit Down East Maine and my similar size village of Whiting, Maine.