Volunteer Columbia celebrates the 25th anniversary of the program


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Volunteer Columbia, the city’s volunteer program, celebrated a milestone on Thursday – its silver anniversary.

While the volunteer program began 25 years ago, city departments used the help of volunteers long before that date, said Leigh Kottwitz, neighborhood services manager in the community development department.

Kottwitz and Jody Cook, Volunteer Program Specialist, oversee the program.

Volunteers gathered at Stephens Lake Park on Thursday for a dinner hosted in their honor ahead of the Columbia Community Band’s Stephens Lake Park Amphitheater Concert Series event.

“(Tonight) is really a treat for me because I’ve known some of you for many years, but I’ve met some people for the very first time tonight,” Kottwitz said. “We had a lot of volunteers who started with us last year and because of COVID-19 we communicated by phone.”

Volunteers are polled each year in January for feedback, and they wanted the opportunity to come together in 2021, she said.

This is what led to the picnic on Thursday.

“We took those comments and said, ‘Hey, we have to honor our volunteers because we didn’t do anything last year,’ especially since this is a pivotal year,” he said. declared Kottwitz.

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Kottwitz, who has worked in the city for 21 years, said there were people who have been with Volunteer Columbia since its inception and have helped even before the group formed.

“Before we had a citywide program, the city had a volunteer program within our solid waste management department,” Kottwitz said. “Even though we are celebrating 25 years, volunteers were part of municipal government long before the city had a formal program.”

Volunteer Program Specialist Jody Cook slices pieces of cake Thursday for attendees at the Columbia Volunteer Picnic.

Volunteer hours on the rise despite COVID-19

Karl Skala, council member and deputy mayor, was among the officials present to greet and thank the volunteers at Thursday’s dinner.

“Colombia is unique because it has a dedicated staff to help volunteers,” he said.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s volunteers accumulated more than 25,000 volunteer hours from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020.

“Some programs have actually seen an increase in service despite some of the challenges we’ve encountered,” Skala said. “The Adop-a-sent, Park Patrol, Park Cleanup, Place Adoption and Household Hazardous Waste volunteers were on the job despite the hardships. “

Volunteers have continued to hook up in their various service areas, despite some service reductions over the past year, Cook said.

“We have measures in place to stay safe. You all always wanted to serve your community and we made it work,” she said. “Being the staff who make sure the environment is right for you to succeed, to make our community what it is, means a lot to me.

“You have truly been a beacon of hope in my COVID year.”

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Leigh Kottwitz, Head of District Services for Columbia, speaks Thursday at the Columbia Volunteer Picnic.

What volunteering opportunities are available?

Those looking for a chance to volunteer with the city can call 573-874-7499 or visit the volunteer program page on the city’s website.

Many volunteer programs aim to keep neighborhoods and other areas clean. This can include adopting a trail, adopting a spot for beautification or litter, or Cleanup Columbia. Volunteers can also make sure people stay safe in parks or on trails.

Volunteers also help with the collection of household hazardous waste.

Additionally, there are opportunities for coaching and teaching, where volunteers could be decision makers by serving on a board or commission that makes recommendations to Columbia City Council.

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Volunteers share what they do

Glenn Brinley and Judy Bock form a team of husband and wife volunteers who help patrol the park.

“I report any maintenance issues,” Bock said.

Patrolling the park can be as simple as smiling and greeting park guests, Brinley said.

Will Green also patrols the parks and adopts part of the MKT trail. He started volunteering early last year, he said.

“I kind of keep the limbs off the trail because I ride the trails myself,” Green said. “I like to make sure I don’t get slapped in the face by a member on the trail over there.”

Volunteers are working together to keep Columbia looking beautiful, he added.

“You are proud of the little place you make,” Green said. “I passed the Hindman Junction right there on the Katy Trail.”

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This junction with the MKT trail may be the only part of Columbia a cyclist sees, so Green wants to make sure it stays enjoyable, he said.

“That’s why I’m doing it: to make sure the trails are nice and well maintained,” Green said.

The condition of Anne Wood Street near Hickman High School is what led her to volunteer and adopt her street.

“I’m not angry when I do it. I think you can’t do it if you’re angry,” Woods said. “You just have to do it and say, ‘It looks so much prettier when it’s done. “It’s a creative act.”

Woods moved to Columbia in the past year and was already volunteering in his community in Bloomington, Indiana, before moving here.

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“(Volunteering) is a great way to meet people and it’s a great way to make the city a little more beautiful,” she said.

She was turned to the Columbia Volunteer Program by longtime volunteer Peter Beiger who also cleans up a place. He’s not going anywhere without the special orange trash bags to adopt and distribute to the people at his table.

“When we walked from her house (to the park), we each had a bag,” Woods said.

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