When Christine Hwang started volunteering at the Potomac Library in 2002 she only had one goal: “To get my 30 hours and graduate from high school.”
“They told us if we didn’t get our [community service] hours in we wouldn’t graduate,” said the Walt Whitman High School junior. But more than two years later Hwang is still working at the library, and was one of four award recipients Thursday at the library’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Night.
Margaret Vogel was recognized as volunteer of the year, Ray Gigliotti won the book sale volunteer award, and Hwang won the Nanci Nathan award for student volunteers.
The award recipients received praise from Potomac Library Manager Nancy Benner, former volunteer of the year and keynote speaker Judy Davis, and Maryland Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-15).
“Libraries are really the heart and soul of the community,” Garagiola said.
“Volunteers play a huge role in the operation of this library,” said Benner.
Potomac Library has between 80 and100 volunteers every year. Benner noted that volunteers cannot perform any of the same functions that paid staff do, but that they “enhance” the library’s services, keep the library running smoothly, and run the monthly book sale, a “huge moneymaking operation for us.” Two years ago more than $12,000 of book sale proceeds paid for the new wooden periodical shelves and this year the library hopes to buy a new, lighted sign with book sale money.
“I have always believed very strongly in volunteerism and cooperative endeavors,” said Vogel, who was cited for over 570 volunteer hours across ten years with the library. “The library is an extension of that philosophy. I started out doing two hours a week,” she added, “And then I just realized, that’s not enough. … There is just so much to be done.”
Benner called her a “wonderful, cheerful person” and a “big supporter of the library.”
Gigliotti is almost completely responsible for “Deals on Wheels,” the rolling bookshelf in the lobby area that makes sale books available to patrons in between scheduled book sales. Gigliotti organizes and stocks the books and even makes sure to replace books that don’t sell for several days. The cart raises as much as $100 a week. “He’s dependable, he’s always here. He just quietly does his work … and comes back the next day,” Benner said. “He’s great.”
As for Hwang, “We love her. She’s a member of the family,” Benner said.
A special, fourth award went Julie Perlman of the Potomac Village Garden Club in recognition of her work making landscaping improvements around the building. The club started working with the library when county money for landscaping began to dry up.
First they built the sundial garden and flagstone path but since then the club members have continued to make improvements around the building, working on one small area at a time, sometimes dipping into their own pockets—and gardens—to get the job done.
Perlman has led the charge. “When you come to a public building and it’s a mess outside—it’s not a good teaching tool to our children or anyone else,” she said. “You can tell exactly where their work stops because it’s so beautiful” Benner said.
The evening started with a one hour set by the Herndon, VA-based New Hots Jazz Orchestra. Former Potomac Library director Rita Isenberg is a member of the band, which played foxtrot and swing standards like Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” and Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive, and Wail.”
While the band played—and a few children tried out their dance moves—volunteers and staff and their families mingled and enjoyed a dessert buffet. “It’s a neat group of people. You build a sense of cohesion and companionship,” Vogel said of her fellow volunteers.
The awards ceremony started around 8 p.m. Benner and Montgomery County Public Libraries Director Harriet Henderson spoke briefly before Vogel, Gigliotti, Hwang and Perlman received certificates and talked about their work and the importance of libraries in their lives. Davis talked about the importance of volunteerism and about the new facilities and programs that the library hopes to support with book sale funds this year.
The band played another set after the awards.
“I know this is not an Oscar,” Hwang said before proceeding to thank her parents and volunteer colleagues and encouraging other student volunteers to stay committed to the library. She plans to keep on working at the library until she graduates. Working in the reading list section helps keep her on top of her studies anyway. “Basically I’m a year ahead,” she said. “They tell us the lists and I’ve already read it.”