Parks and Recreation, Railroad Advisory, Bicycle/Pedestrian, Historic Preservation and Cultural Affairs are just a few of the 33 boards and commissions composed of volunteers who dedicate their time to improving Columbia.
City officials greeted and thanked the more than 300 volunteers serving on boards and commissions Thursday at the annual appreciation party.
To fulfill the various positions demanded by the different boards and commissions, volunteers come from a range of work and educational backgrounds. The ages varied from college-aged to long retired.
Larry Foster, a retired air traffic controller, joined the Airport Advisory Board to stay involved with the airport. When Air Midwest came to town this fall, his board helped advise it.
“We didn’t have final say, but we made suggestions,” Foster said.
Some volunteers said they hope to bring expertise to the boards and commissions. Others hope to stay active in the community after retirement. Most agreed, however, that they enjoy giving something back to the community.
“I feel it is necessary to have a student voice on the commission,” said Michael Voakum, a freshman at Westminster College who has served on the Substance Abuse Advisory Commission since his junior year of high school.
Mayor Darwin Hindman thanked the crowd of volunteers.
“We very much appreciate what you do,” Hindman said. “The wide range of tasks you perform is unbelievable.”
Many of the volunteers said that their highest priority is with the community and community opinion.
“The most important voice should be the people being served,” said Pat Kelley. Serving as the First Ward commissioner for the Community Development Commission, Kelley got involved because she felt that Community Development Block Grants were an important part of her neighborhood. “I wanted to be part of the commission that dealt with CDBG funding,” Kelley said.
Despite the hours she dedicates to the commission, Kelley said she doesn’t think of it as volunteering.
“One of the things that makes this a unique community is the citizen involvement,” City Manager Bill Watkins said. He said the jobs the boards and commission perform add significantly to the community and make city jobs easier.
“To do all this for the love of the community is a wonderful thing,” Watkins said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless said the council’s job would be much more difficult without the boards’ and commissions’ help. Without them, Loveless said, the city would be far less attractive.
“They bring a depth of knowledge, expertise and dedication that we just can’t afford to buy,” Loveless said.