Vineland teacher and single mom Tara Giblin hasn't reduced her volunteer schedule for the holiday season. Instead, she added relief work at the shore to her already full plate of helping build Habitat for Humanity houses.
"My dad's in construction, so I've been building all my life," Giblin said. "We built the house we live in. It's right up my alley."
She volunteers every other Saturday at the Cumberland County Habitat for Humanity work site on the corner of Delsea Drive and Regina Elena Avenue in Vineland, right across the street from the Marie D. Durand Elementary School, where she teaches third grade.
Since Hurricane Sandy hit, what used to be her Saturdays off are now spent helping remove damaged drywall and other items from flooded buildings. Most recently she was on a work crew in Beach Haven.
"Once you get out there, it's kind of addictive being part of a group effort," said Giblin, adding her 16-year-old daughter Bailey was the first in the family to push to get involved and volunteers with her. "We meet great people every week."
The six weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day are among the busiest of the year for many people, who struggle to get holiday shopping done and meet obligations to spend time with friends and family members. But in spite of additional demands on their time, many volunteers never miss a beat in volunteering during December, saying it helps them cope with the pressures of the season.
Jane McCarthy, in her sixties, of Ocean City, teaches a once-a-week, two-hour English as Second Language class for Literacy Volunteers Association Cape-Atlantic, Inc., based in Pleasantville. Currently her class has five people from Asia, South America and the Middle East.
"No matter how crazy life has gotten, when I do that class and I walk out, the world is bright and shiny again. The static and pressures of everyday life are gone," said McCarthy. "Even if I'm not feeling good, and I'm grumbly about going, once the class starts it's just a high - a wonderful experience."
She said she is particularly amazed by the efforts of people from countries like Saudi Arabia, where they use a different alphabet.
"I ask people to please come up and write their name on the board, the way they wrote in their home country," she said. She finds it mind boggling to see the circles, lines and dots of a foreign alphabet.
"It's an appreciation of everybody that comes into the class, that the hurdle is not just their own, but somebody might have things a little easier or a lot harder," McCarthy said.
Other LVA volunteers are reading coaches who commit to working one-on-one with adults who want to learn to read or to improve their skills, 50 weeks per year at least two hours per week.
"Probably most don't meet between Christmas and New Year's," said Executive Director Sheila McLaughlin. But they keep meeting through the rest of December, she said.
They also take a little time off in the summer, as students and tutors go on vacation, she said.
McLaughlin said there are 41 people on the waiting list for tutors now, and some of them are working in groups with teachers until tutors become available.
Some volunteers do have to take a break for a while.
Barbara Groff, of Linwood, is a retired school administrator who retired four years ago and immediately started volunteering at the Arc of Atlantic County's Ventnor thrift shop. She recently worked her last volunteer shift there.
"I'm going back to work for a short time," she said, filling in as an administrator until a school district makes a permanent hire.
Groff will keep doing her volunteer work as a child advocate with Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, based in Somers Point, she said. That work involves following a foster child for months or years, showing up at all court dates, and generally advocating for the child's best interest when the court makes decisions about their care.
In January she will train as a peer coordinator at CASA, which means she will oversee other volunteers as they work with children.
"My child I've been working with just got adopted last month. I got to go to my first adoption hearing and party afterwards," Groff said of the 13-year-old child who found a safe, permanent home. "Now I will probably extend my hours a bit with becoming a peer coordinator."
She will also keep doing her work on the human rights committee for the Arc, she said.
"It's a juggle, but it's important for me to still try to fit those volunteer experiences in," Groff said. "They sort of make the season more meaningful. Helping other people at this time is a good thing. I have to make time for that and get everything else in."
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
For information on volunteering
United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey: unitedforimpact.org/ways-to-engage/
Atlantic County Habitat for Humanity: achabitat.org, 609-487-9472.
Cumberland County Habitat for Humanity: habitat-cumberlandnj.org, 856-563-0292.
Cape May County Habitat for Humanity: habitatcapemaycounty.org, 609-463-0244.
Literacy Volunteers Association Cape-Atlantic: lvacapeatlantic.com, 609-383-3377.
Arc of Atlantic County: arcatlantic.org,
Arc of Cape May County: arcofcapemay.org, 609-861-7100.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Atlantic and Cape May Counties: atlanticcapecasa.org,609-601-8090.