Last month I had a bitter-sweet experience, but mostly, it was beautiful. Buffeted by wind and rain kicked up by a mid-September storm, I took part in the gathering of over 200 friends and neighbors at Mavis Muller’s 12th annual Burning Basket celebration.
Its purpose? To commemorate and pay tribute to love and loss, to let go of emotional burdens, to reach beyond them, and to celebrate life. Sadly, prior to this year’s celebration, a few mean-spirited people, under cover of darkness, tried not once but twice to destroy this beautiful piece of community art created by local volunteers of all ages, from 9 to 90.
At first I felt angry at this senseless violation. But as the heart of the community, like a phoenix, rose to rebuild, my anger quickly turned to pride. As the basket burned brightly that night, transforming personally inscribed and decorated paper cranes, photos, notes, and letters into sparks of light drifting into the night sky, I was reminded that despite the efforts of a heartless few to destroy something beautiful, every day many among us choose instead to invest their time, their efforts, and their caring spirits to pay it forward with love. We live in such a naturally beautiful place. But it’s the people who live here, who invest themselves in building and maintaining its fiber, that make our town such a special place to call home.
Everywhere I look I see evidence of friends and neighbors who volunteer their time and resources to pay it forward. On the Homer Spit, the Seafarer’s Memorial, imagined and built by Drew Scalzi and an eclectic team of local volunteers, stands as a poignant, permanent tribute to the many local fishermen who have been lost at sea. Inside WKFL Park in the heart of Homer, over 200 memorial pavers and a summer garden quietly honor lost loved ones thanks to a program sponsored by Hospice of Homer donors and volunteers. And in Karen Hornaday Park, a wonderful state-of-the-art public playground now delights our youngest generation thanks to an ambitious project imagined and managed by local moms, built with love by community volunteers, and largely funded by local donors. These are but a few examples of the physical evidence of volunteerism and giving found all around us.
Less visible but equally important examples of the power of volunteerism in our community include a wide range of events and services. Volunteers organize and fundraise. They run, jog, walk, ski, jump into freezing water, play music, and reach into their pockets to support research and find cures for life-threatening diseases, to honor loved ones lost to these diseases, and to celebrate survivors. They serve on non-profit boards that support the arts, family services, furry friends, the environment, young athletes, and a hundred more worthy causes. They visit shut-ins. They collect and distribute food and clothing to the hungry and homeless. Volunteer firefighters and EMTs sometimes even risk their lives as they come to our aid in times of need.
We all stand on the shoulders of those whose efforts and contributions help shape the soul and spirit of our community. It feels good to be among them. It feels good to take part. So whether you give of your time, your talent, offer financial support — or all three — it matters. When we help pay it forward, we enrich ourselves as well as our community.
Beth Graber is a professor of English at the Kachemak Bay Campus of KPC/UAA and serves on the board of directors for Hospice of Homer. For a look at some of the ways you can help pay it forward, see the nonprofit needs list on page 5.