As I have learned through my AmeriCorps training, there are a variety of reasons why someone serves as a volunteer. Some volunteer because they are passionate about an organization’s cause. Others volunteer because they are required to fulfill a community service requirement. Then, there are those people who volunteer because they are a caregiver for an ailing family member, and they are searching for an opportunity that allows them to do something enjoyable for a few hours a week. This type of volunteer cherishes these few hours as a much needed respite from the stresses of caregiving. The Harrison County Historical Society has such a volunteer named Carol Bennett.
I recruited Carol Bennett as an archive volunteer while the Harrison County Historical Society was promoting its re-published local history books at a craft fair in November. She expressed an interest in historic photographs and documents, and she really liked the she could set her own volunteer hours at our archive. At first, she found the archival training and handling procedures slightly intimidating, but she always maintained her willingness to learn. Accessioning photographs and documents is tedious, but every once in a while, Carol and I discover something unique in the archives that makes us excited. Once, we found a late nineteenth century wedding album which included the wedding guest list and gifts given to the couple. But, what made this find special were the pieces of the wedding dress and other swatches of fabric from the bride’s trousseau attached to the album. Carol and I were amazed at the colors of the fabric the bride choose for her dresses. The vibrant purples, greens, and yellows used contrasted with our preconceived notion that people from the Victorian era dressed mainly in drab colors. We were so fascinated by this album that it was all we could talk about when people came into the archives that day. Every time Carol or I find something interesting, we turn it into a small show-and-tell which helps lighten our work day. Moments like these make the work fun and has shown Carol that accessioning isn’t always tedious or intimidating.
Since that initial training, Carol has been my most regular volunteer at the archives, and that dependability has certainly helped me get things accomplished. She volunteers approximately six hours a week on average because she is the primary caregiver to her elderly parents. Having a mother with multiple sclerosis and cancer, I personally know how having an outside activity is beneficial to your emotional well-being when you are a caregiver. I am glad the Harrison County Historical Society’s archive provides that outlet for Carol Bennett, and we, in turn, are grateful for her service and dedication.