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Season of giving at Charlestown

Experts say benefits of volunteering go both ways

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November 26th, 2013
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While others are crossing off their Christmas lists and fighting crowds at the mall, Charlestown residents are getting into the true spirit of the season by helping those in need.

“I get a great deal of satisfaction from helping other people,” says Jim Mullis, a Charlestown resident who uses his woodworking skills to build toys for needy children.

Throughout the year, Jim, a grandfather of nine, along with ten other talented craftsmen who live at Charlestown, make wooden toys for Toys for Tots, a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

“We get together and decide what kinds of toys we would like to make, then each person goes out and gets their own templates and patterns,” says Jim. “We’ve made puzzles, peg games, pull-toys—a variety of different things.”

The toys are made in Charlestown’s on-site woodshop and funded by woodshop members as well as from scrap lumber and donated paint and supplies. The multiroom woodshop features professional-grade saws, sanders, and hand tools; a finishing room for painting and staining equipped with an exhaust system; and a separate assembly room.

The partnership with the children’s charity came about after Jim began researching area kids’ charities online and contacted the Howard County chapter of Toys for Tots.

“Some of the woodshop members had individually worked with local charities making toys in the past,” says Jim. “When I brought up the idea to the leader of the local Toys for Tots, we agreed that it would be a great opportunity for both of our groups.”

The volunteers begin making the toys in May. Jim estimates, this year alone, they’ve spent more than 500 hours making more than 60 toys.

“I think I speak for all of us when I say we get a lot of enjoyment out of making these toys, and we know how happy they make the children who receive them. So in the end everybody wins,” says Jim.

Lending a hand—or a mitten

Each Thanksgiving, Tom Spurgeon organizes a hat and mitten collection to benefit the needy in Arbutus and Catonsville.

“Christmas trees are placed in two of the community’s clubhouses—one in Charlestown Square near the Fireside Restaurant and the other in the Cross Creek lobby,” says Tom. “People can bring by their donations and hang them on the trees. Each year, we usually collect between 500 to 600 hats and mittens.”

The hat and mitten trees are a 28-year-old tradition started by Tom’s late mother Doris Spurgeon, who also lived at Charlestown.

“I took over for her when I moved to Charlestown ten years ago,” says Tom. “I have really enjoyed being a part of it. We get a variety of different-sized hats and mittens; it’s not specific to any age or gender. We have some individuals and groups here who knit and donate dozens of items each year. I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to be there from time to time when the hats and mittens are distributed, and it’s nice to see some of the people who are directly affected by our efforts.”

Good vibrations

A new study by UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute for Sustainable Health supports Jim’s sentiments that giving makes you feel good. The report finds that volunteering is linked to better physical, mental, and emotional health.

“Doing Good Is Good for You: 2013 Health and Volunteering Study” reveals that 76% of U.S. adults who volunteer report that volunteering has made them feel physically healthier, and 78% report that volunteering lowers their levels of stress helping them feel better than if they did not volunteer.

The study reveals four key benefits of volunteering that make a positive impact on people’s lives:

• Health—volunteers say that they feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally

• Stress—volunteering helps people manage and lower their stress levels

• Purpose—volunteers feel a deeper connection to communities and to others

• Engagement—volunteers are more informed health care consumers, and more engaged and involved in managing their health.

Charlestown Community Resources Manager Mary Evans and her staff offer support to the many different clubs and volunteer groups within the community and says they are fortunate to have a core group of dedicated and engaged volunteers who think of others not only around the holidays, but year-round.

“Our volunteers enjoy sharing their gifts and making a difference in the community, and by doing so, they are unquestionably pursuing their passions and living more fulfilling lives,” says Evans.

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