Valley Volunteers

Valley Volunteers

The Lehigh Valley depends on motivated volunteers to sustain the mission of food pantries, shelters, festivals, performing arts organizations, fire companies, literacy centers, blood banks, animal rescue groups, and other nonprofits.

Without the selfless dedication of volunteers, the world looks a little bleaker.

But there are the super volunteers, the ones who never say no when the call for help goes out to serve their communities.

They’re the ones who do the right thing when no one else is paying attention. They’re the ones who jump in when everyone else turns the other way. They’re the ones who build stronger communities by rolling up their sleeves to get things done.

Let’s meet three of them.

Paul Fistner

Hometown: Bethlehem, born and raised

Volunteer activities: ArtsQuest, Musikfest, Star of Bethlehem Festival for Kids, Sun Inn Preservation Association

Career:  Recently retired employee benefits manager after 43 years in

the employee benefits field, which included 31 years at the former

Bethlehem Steel Corp. and 12 years with National Penn Bank, now  BB&T

Average monthly volunteer time: 10-20 hours

Musikfest and ArtsQuest: “I started with Musikfest 34 years ago and am one of the original volunteers—there’s only 14 of us left. Nobody knew what this new festival would become in 1984, and neighbors were recruited and came out to help support it. It’s just awesome what it’s become, unlike anything else, and it just gets in your blood as you take on more responsibility. I serve as site supervisor at Volksplatz (since 1989) and as a member of the food vendor and Musikfest advisory committees. I also chair the ArtsQuest volunteer committee.”

Star of Bethlehem Festival for Kids: “This is such a cool organization and grew out of the former Rose Garden Children’s Festival (1990-2001), which folded not for lack of funding but because we couldn’t get volunteers. Fast forward to 2007, some of the same people realized there wasn’t a festival for kids and we decided to put our heads together to put on an arts and science festival, much like the Rose Garden Festival.

We had grandiose plans, but then the economy crashed in 2008. It was impossible to get sponsorship, and plans were put on hold for a couple years. We decided to raise our own money and hold our own fundraisers, craft beer tasting on Friday night, wine tasting on Saturday night and then the festival on Sunday (third Sunday of May) under a tent at Main and Lehigh streets in Bethlehem. We do everything while the tent is there – saves a lot of money on tent rentals. This event has become near and dear to my heart.”

Sun Inn Preservation Association: “This is one of the hidden gems in the Lehigh Valley, and I volunteer here because I just enjoy the history and the heritage of this place. I’m a jack of all trades there and do maintenance work and bring my logistical expertise from Musikfest and the children’s festival to help with special events.”

Most vivid memory: “After a kids’ festival, a mom came to thank us. I remember seeing her kids’ arms loaded with stuff from Crayola and Just Born and hearing her say, ‘If we had to pay for all of this, we could never afford it.’

On volunteering: “As chairman of ArtsQuest’s volunteer committee, I see what a struggle it is to get people to volunteer. It gets harder all the time, and people keep coming out to theses great events yet fewer of them are willing to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. You can’t survive without volunteers. Every year at Musikfest, I have to take a step back and take in an emotional moment. It happens when I look out and see thousands of people at Volksplatz enjoying themselves and think that that I had a small piece in making that happen.”

Mary Lou Straka

Hometown: Bethlehem, born and raised

Volunteer activities: ArtsQuest, Musikfest, Celtic Classic, Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites, Miller-Keystone Blood Center, Angel 34.

Career: Bethlehem Steel Corp. 31 years, working in the claims and accounts receivable departments and cashier’s office; 13 years at Brandenburg Industrial Services Co., Bethlehem

Average monthly volunteer time: 25-30 hours

Musikfest and ArtsQuest: “I’ve done Musikfest for 34 years, since the very beginning, and remember reading about it in a church bulletin. I’ve sold tickets, soda, wine, tapped beer, and helped staff the hospitality area for festival donors. I was drawn to Musikfest because of the community spirit that built up around it. It’s just a great event for the region, and it’s been a privilege to help support it all these years.”

Celtic Classic: “What I’ve always enjoyed is the opportunity to meet vendors and other volunteers and visitors. Last time I worked in the hospitality tent near highland games, serving beer and wine and making sure everyone had enough food.”

Miller-Keystone Blood Center: “I started here in 1999, first working on a cruise fundraiser, and started in the canteen after I retired. I still enjoy working in the canteen, serving Rosenberger’s chocolate milk—it’s just the best—apple juice, chips, pretzels and cookies to donors after they’ve given blood. A lot of the same people come back, and it’s fun to get to know the dedicated donors and form friendships.”

Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites: “I help out at the Blueberry and Apple Days festivals at Burnside Plantation. Truthfully, I go because of the blueberry and apple pie (laughing).”

Angel 34: “This organization is something new for me.  I’m in my second year and help assist various grocers and restaurants that supply food and wine for fundraisers for Angels 34 and its goal to find a cure for childhood cancer.”

Most vivid memory: “Many years ago at Musikfest, they had a character breakfast for the children, similar to the ones they have at Disney. I was chosen to dress up as the yellow Crayola Crayon. What a delight it was to see the smiles on the children’s faces as I walked around (with the help of a guide) and interacted with the children. As I look back on that experience, it still brings a smile to my face.”

On volunteering: “There’s such a need for volunteers, and I feel as though you get so much back from it. You’re not only doing it for your community, but you also get a positive feeling from doing good work that helps others. It’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people. I have made fantastic friendships because of my volunteering. And I have so many t-shirts from volunteering—you can’t believe it!”

Rosa Velasquez

Hometown: Lima, Peru; lives in Freemansburg

Volunteer activities: ArtsQuest, Musikfest, Christkindlmarkt, Oktoberfest at SteelStacks, Three Kings Celebration

Career: Lehigh Valley Plastics Inc., 27 years. Now at Stitch Fix.

Average monthly volunteer time: 20 hours

ArtsQuest, Musikfest, Christkindlmarkt, Oktoberfest, Three Kings Celebration: “I’ve been volunteering for eight years at these ArtsQuest events. I just love it, because I can give back to the community. What encouraged me was their flexibility and that they’re nice people to work with. I’ve helped with ticket sales at Christkindlmarkt, sold mugs at Oktoberfest and served as assistant site supervisor at Plaza Tropical at Musikfest. I used to take my kids to Musikfest when they were little; now they volunteer, too. At the Three Kings event, I helped with arts and crafts and gave away presents to the children. This past January was my first time at this event. It’s a tradition that takes place during the 12 days of Christmas in many Latin American countries. It reminded me of similar family celebrations back home.”

Most vivid memory: “I have so many, but as you go through the years, you realize that some people you’ve come to know are gone. You get really close to these people, and it’s sad when you don’t see them anymore. But I also remember greeting Musikfest visitors from Spain and Brazil, and they were impressed by all the volunteers who came out and were amazed that you don’t get paid. I tried to explain about what it means to volunteer and to help in a small way.”

On volunteering: “I enjoy giving back to my community in any way. I love to meet people and meet new friends and try to encourage others to volunteer because it helps all of us. If it would not be for volunteers, these events wouldn’t happen.”

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