Sunday Profile: Volunteer extraordinaire: ‘It’s a feel-good thing’
December 9, 2015
The season of giving is upon us. For many, the holidays inspire an extra measure of goodwill and compassion, kindness and generosity.
For Carol Klein, however, December means business as usual: Her plate of giving is no fuller right now than it is the other 11 months of the year. No extra measures required.
"Let's see now," Klein said during a recent interview, consulting a small notepad in the living room of her sunny Carbondale home. "I wrote down all the groups I volunteer for, because I didn't want to forget anyone."
Klein is what you might call a volunteer extraordinaire. She regularly donates a great amount of her time and energy to nearly a dozen local organizations.
"I can talk a little about each one," Klein said with a laugh, "but I do need to make sure I have enough time to get to my Public Arts Commission meeting in a couple hours." Her schedule is filled with such appointments.
If you have attended any festival, fundraiser or arts event in Carbondale over the past decade, you have likely seen Klein in action. From helping at First Fridays to taking tickets at charity auctions to directing patrons to their seats at theater performances, Klein has worked in a variety of capacities at some of the most important and popular happenings in town. She even bartends at the Mountain Fair cantina, slinging frosty glasses of beer with the TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) alcohol certification she earned just for the job.
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"I studied like a maniac for that TIPS test," she recalled. "But I needed it to work at Mountain Fair, so I got it."
Growing up in the Detroit area, Klein was introduced to volunteerism as a young girl.
"I think I really got hooked on it from my mother," Klein said. "The things she was interested in — she pursued those through volunteer work even though she never had the education I was fortunate enough to have. She volunteered with the USO during World War II, and I remember hearing stories about it. She also did theater work, directing children's plays and taking them around to elementary schools. She was an example for me."
After graduating from Albion College with a degree in art and journalism, Klein went on to raise five children while working as a volunteer for a myriad of local groups in Michigan. These included a historical committee and the Detroit chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, for which she served 21 years as the organization's president and spent countless hours working with college representatives, planning programs and attending leadership meetings around the country.
When Klein relocated to Carbondale 12 years ago, it wasn't long before she began giving her time to nonprofits here.
"LIFT-UP was the first group I volunteered with in the valley. I first got involved with them by helping with their holiday food drive, but then I spent more and more time helping afterward," she remembered. "Today I still spend a great amount of time with LIFT-UP. They really make a big difference for a lot of people around here."
Since that first holiday event with LIFT-UP long ago, Klein has become an official volunteer with many of the area's most beloved organizations: KDNK, Thunder River Theatre Company, the Carbondale Clay Center and the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, which Klein was invited to join by friend and late arts advocate Ro Mead. Klein also serves with the Historic Preservation Commission and Public Arts Commission, and volunteers as needed for fundraisers with the Rotary Club of Carbondale.
As if the list weren't long enough in her own town, Klein also frequently travels upvalley to work as an usher for Theatre Aspen and the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Plus she staffs the Benedict Music Tent kiosk during Aspen Music Festival performances in the summertime.
Although her time commitments for each individual organization would appear to be a half hour here, an afternoon there, Klein's small contributions add up to one large act of selfless service to her community. And the best part? She doesn't even allow herself to take any credit.
"Oh, it's not something that you pat yourself on the back for, you know? It's not about that," she said. When asked why she chooses to volunteer so much of her time, Klein replied, somewhat bashfully, "It's a feel-good thing," and then deflected attention to discussion about the impactful work each of her groups does. At the end of the day, Klein could never be pressed to make her service about herself.
For those who may have been considering volunteerism lately, Klein urges them to take the plunge.
"What I would say to anyone is this: Even if you do not think you have the time, even if you only picked one organization and only worked once a year when they needed you, that organization will treasure that time you gave," she said. "And for you — pretty soon it feels like a duty you have. A real duty. Even right this moment I'm thinking, 'Gosh, I have got to get over and pick up those winter coats for LIFT-UP,' because they need me to. And they would need you, as well."
In an area that has such a large number of nonprofits per capita, it is the volunteers like Klein who help keep that ratio so high. The community needs individuals to donate time — precious time of which there is always so little — so that we may continue to enjoy the high quality of life each organization helps foster here.
Klein's next gig will be that of Box Office Manager for Thunder River Theatre Company's upcoming production of "Bakersfield Mist," opening this Thursday, Dec. 10. She has faithfully served in this role with the theater for more than three years.
"I'm there every night of every show," she said with a smile. "I love working at the theater. It's my biggest time commitment, but I love it and I meet so many interesting people."
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