Families find volunteering together benefits them, too

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comDecember 25, 2012 

During this season of giving, we are highlighting three families who volunteer, making helping others part of their holiday tradition.

The O'Briens and company

While volunteering with Chrysalis House for more than 20 years, Eileen O'Brien has enticed not only her five brothers and their families to pitch in, she's persuaded her work family at Lexington's Stoll Keenon Ogden to lend a hand.

In fact, over the years, helping out has become a valued family tradition. O'Brien's brothers, their wives and children have volunteered at the Chrysalis House 5K for several years.

"There is amazing energy," said O'Brien. "It's a wonderful time to be together. It really makes you feel more like a family when you give back together."

It's fitting that the residential treatment program for women has a motto of "Building a community. One Family at a time" because O'Brien also counts on her work family to support the non-profit.

Earlier this month, the firm's mock courtroom was transformed into a mega-wrapping station, as it has been for many years. Members of the firm and their families go shopping, buy gifts and, in a final whirlwind, wrap gifts for the children of women recovering in the Chrysalis House program. This year, a dozen helpers and O'Brien, who is a partner at the firm, wrapped about 100 presents in about an hour. Next year, she said, she knows they'll be doing the same.

"It's special," she said of how the group comes together. "We wouldn't be able to do this without the help of everyone who participates."

The Svarlien family

From canvassing for the Democratic Party to packing boxes for God's Pantry to tutoring children at the Carnegie Center, the Svarliens have long found a way to give back.

Diane Arnson Svarlien said volunteering just seems like the right thing to do, and the family has worked together since her children, Corinna, 18, and Aaron, 22, were small.

"It's just something I really enjoy," said Corinna Svarlien, who volunteered each week last year as a tutor at the Carnegie Center. "It's just a normal part of life."

Both kids are now off at college — Corinna at Scripps College in California and Aaron at Beloit College in Wisconsin. The distance was one reason that Corinna Svarlien took the family giving a little further this year by asking her parents to donate to the Carnegie Center instead of buying her presents for Hanukkah.

"It just made sense to spend the money doing that instead of mailing me a six-pack of Ale 8," she said.

The family is scheduled to deliver meals Christmas Day through Tzeason of Tzedakah, a volunteer matching program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass.

Corinna said her parents' examples led the way to her volunteer efforts, but she's come to love it, some efforts more than others.

For example, her work fostering kittens, "that's pretty easy volunteering," she said.

The Benningtons

Jane Bennington said volunteering with her husband and three kids is kind of a no-brainer.

"I was so raised that way," said Bennington, mom to Katie, 16; Bo, 13, and Maggie, 11. She said she was inspired by her parents, Mollie and Bill Heron.

"My dad always said to us that for those who much is given, much is expected," she said.

Bennington tries to include her children in volunteer efforts, like shopping for the Salvation Army Angel Tree. She also tries to instill in them the idea that everyone has something they can contribute. For example, daughter Katie is doing stats for her brother's Babe Ruth baseball team. It's really about finding the best way to use your time, resources and energy, she said.

The family also is active at Second Presbyterian Church, and Jane Bennington is on the board of Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Setting a good example for your kids, Bennington said, "is a lesson you teach without telling them."

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: Bluegrassmoms.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service