The City of Plymouth Celebrates 20 Years of Volunteering

The city of Plymouth celebrates 20 years of volunteers.

The next time you’re enjoying a city park, attending a high school hockey game or networking at a community event, be sure to thank a volunteer.

The year 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of Plymouth’s city volunteer program, one of the biggest and most successful municipal volunteer initiatives in the Twin Cities metro. Since 1993, a dedicated corps of community members has worked behind (and in front of) the scenes to keep our fair city running smoothly, and as the year draws to a close, we talked with the program’s director, Jackie Maas, and a group of volunteers to find out what makes Plymouth so special—and what volunteerism means to them.

The Organizer Extraordinaire

What’s the secret to Plymouth’s volunteer program success? One key ingredient is a full-time volunteer coordinator, who works with various divisions across city government to identify volunteer opportunities and coordinate helpers.

Since she took over the position in 2007, that superwoman has been Jackie Maas. “By the time 2012 rolled around, we had 2,330 volunteers, and they contributed more than 28,000 hours of service,” she says with a smile. “It’s just a wonderful way for people to feel like they’re contributing.”

Maas sees “volunteer fingerprints” everywhere she looks. “My mailman was a volunteer. The parents at my son’s school are volunteers. The parks where I run are [maintained] by volunteers. The events I attend with my family are put on by volunteers,” she says.

When asked about the kinds of things volunteers do, Maas laughs. “It’s easier to say what they don’t do,” she says. Some share their professional skills (in architecture or finance, for example). Some give time towards their passions, like gardening or the arts.

“A lot of things happen with small projects,” Maas says, which is another secret of the program’s success. Instead of having to commit to a long-term volunteer position, folks can sign up for as many hours or events as they want. And there’s something for everyone, from stuffing envelopes to planting flowers to taking tickets at a concert or sporting event.

“The city of Plymouth is so incredibly blessed to have a wealth of people who want to help,” Maas says. “All I have to do is ask. We couldn’t do what we do in the city without our volunteers.”

What are you waiting for? Visit plymouthmn.gov to find the perfect gig.

The Veteran Volunteer

If you’ve visited a community spot or attended an event in Plymouth, chances are that Linda Carlson has helped make it possible. “I take tickets at the ice center for hockey games, worked the Yard and Garden Expo, helped at the juried art show, set up a luncheon for senior volunteers, worked in the black box theater …” she says, trailing off.

But for the humble Carlson, 59, who has lived in Plymouth for 33 years, getting recognition for her volunteer work is the last thing she wants. “When my children were young, their dad died. During that time, the community was unbelievable. The schools, neighborhood and community rallied around these kids.” Now, many years later, Carlson is giving back. “Plymouth does so much—I am saying ‘thank you’ to this wonderful community.”

Most Memorable Volunteer Moment:

My son Brandon, who coaches alpine skiing and lacrosse for Wayzata High School, came to visit the ice arena while I was taking tickets. I introduced him to the arena manager, who said, “I don’t know what to tell you, Brandon. Every time I turn around she’s hugging somebody.”

What three words say “Plymouth” to you?

Caring, connected, involved.

The Safekeepers

Mohamed Mohamed  has dreamed of becoming a police officer since he was a little boy–Mohamed was born in Somalia and grew up in Egypt. “Being a police officer is being a good role model … I fell in love with the job,” he says. “My goal is to work where I can be useful.” After graduating last December from the police academy at Hennepin County Technical College, Mohamed is re-discovering his dream: He’s a member of Plymouth’s Police Reserve force.

The Reserves are made up entirely of volunteers—men and women who ride along with officers, respond to emergencies, assist with arrests and, provide traffic control and event security and most important, keep Plymouth a safe place to work and play. Some reservists, like Mohamed, are getting ready for a career in law enforcement. Some are community members just hoping to make a difference.

One of Mohamed’s ultimate goals is to bridge the culture gap between local police departments and Somali communities. “I speak Somali and Arabic; I have a good knowledge of the Somali and Middle Eastern cultures, background and religion,” he says. “Hopefully I’ll be a valuable asset, to be a liaison for better communication.”

Most Memorable Volunteer Moment:

After my first day on patrol, we went back to the station and there was an officer calling for an interpreter. Another officer said, “Which interpreter are you looking for?” and he answered, “Somali.” I spoke up, rode along on the call and prevented a sticky situation from being lost in translation.

What three words say “Plymouth” to you?

Amazing, good people.

Jenny Anderson is “just a mom,” she says with a smile, but as a member of the Reserves, the 43-year-old Anderson often finds herself in the thick of the action. “It’s a really fun experience,” says the five-year veteran of the force. “I feel like it’s a good way to give back.”

In 2007, two of Anderson’s family members were killed be a drunk driver. “The catalyst [for joining the force] was going through the court system” in the aftermath of the accident, she says. “I had a friend who had been on the Reserve, and they needed more women.”  Anderson decided to sign up. “You put your life on the line every time you go out there,” she says. “It’s exciting. I enjoy doing it.”

Most Memorable Volunteer Moment:

It’s really exciting to be flying down I-494 at 100 miles per hour, trying to get somebody. It’s an adrenaline rush … you can fly down the road.

What three words say “Plymouth” to you?

Friendly, kind, healthy.

The Newcomer

Jared Gilbert, 33, has only been living in Plymouth since January 2013, but he’s already making a big difference. “My wife and I recently relocated from Indiana. As part of that transition, I wanted to pick up some volunteer work, connect with the community and meet some people,” he says.

Check, check and check. When Gilbert’s not coaching a youth soccer team or pulling weeds in city parks, he’s working with the police department to analyze crime data or creating a website for the parks and recreation department, which he recently finished. “I’ve been able to get some very interesting volunteer positions,” says Gilbert, whose background is in analytical chemistry research.

After talking with Jackie Maas about how he could get involved, Gilbert jumped in with both feet. “Volunteering is a way for me to kind of plug into the community. The more I’m talking with people who work at the city or other volunteers, the more I find out about the area and things that are going on.”

Most Memorable Volunteer Moment:

While I’m within this first year of volunteering, every event I go to is interesting. Every new experience is memorable.

What three words say “Plymouth” to you?

Oh sure, ask the new guy! Community-oriented, peaceful, active.

The Teen Dream

While most 16-year-olds are up to their ears in schoolwork, sports and learning to drive, Neha Potlapalli is already giving back to her community. The Wayzata High School junior started volunteering in Plymouth two summers ago with the city’s carnival, and then moved on to helping at the Plymouth day camp for young children. “It was a really great experience. I volunteer to connect with my community,” she says simply.

Potlapalli is also an integral part of Plymouth’s Teen Advisory Group. “We’re the teen voice in the city,” she says. “A council of teens gets together and plans events. We get teens connected with other people, and show that teen connections make a difference.” She pauses. “We’re the future, and we need to start working on that!”

In her (ahem) spare time, Potlapalli volunteers at a local hospital, is active in her school’s science department, participates in the debate team and studies piano. “I really like helping people and making connections,” she says.

Most Memorable Volunteer Moment:

When I [volunteered at] day camp, all of the kids saw me as this older figure that was so cool to them. They looked up to me and my partner, and it was really awesome to see that we were becoming role models and these kids would remember us.

What three words say “Plymouth” to you?

Caring, connected, helpful.


The Celebration

During 2013, Plymouth volunteers took some time to reflect on the past 20 years of giving back. Here’s a quick snapshot:

  • May: 100 volunteers plant 1,000 trees for the new Volunteer Forest.
  • June: The city honors 20 volunteers who have made important contributions over the years.
  • July: City staff get together to make 350 sandwiches for homeless members of the community.
  • September: As One, an anniversary sculpture by James Anthony Bearden, is installed in the lobby of City Hall.
  • October: Friends and families gather for the city’s annual volunteer recognition event on October 1 at Plymouth Creek Center.

Why Do You Volunteer?

Jackie Maas asked her dedicated helpers to share their own reasons for giving back. Here are some of our favorites:

  • “Because it helps me as much as it helps others.”
  • “Because it’s more fun than therapy. (It’s cheaper, too!)”
  • “To help our city and its employees get things done.”
  • “Because Plymouth is a great place to live. I say ‘thank you’ when I volunteer.”

20 Years of Volunteers: A Timeline

  • 1992: City Council members propose funding for a volunteer coordinator position.
  • 1993: Nancy Anderson is hired as the first volunteer coordinator. 224 volunteers contribute more than 4,000 hours of service.
  • 1995: For the first time, volunteers give more than 10,000 hours.
  • 2003: For the first time, more than 1,000 volunteers participate.
  • 2007: Nancy Anderson retires; Jackie Maas becomes new volunteer coordinator.
  • 2012: 2,230 volunteers contribute more than 28,000 hours.

Did You Know?

Most popular volunteer opportunities in town

  • Yard and Garden Expo: 6–9 p.m. April 13, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. April 14; Plymouth Creek Center Fieldhouse.
  • Primavera celebration: Times vary by day, April 15–19; Plymouth Creek Center Fieldhouse.
  • Flower Planting Day: 9 a.m.–noon, May 19; parks located throughout Plymouth.

Check plymouthmn.gov for more information about participating in these volunteer experiences.

Most unusual volunteer opportunities

  • Painting red hearts every tenth of a mile along city trails
  • Creating a sculpture out of recyclable items
  • Translating water safety slogans into Russian
  • Donning an event costume: Say hello to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and—of course—McGruff the Crime Dog