Three Cheers for Cape and Islands Volunteers, November/December Cape Cod Life | capecodlife.com

Volunteers Polly Brazelton, at left, and Karen Townsend review some paperwork at WE CAN’S office in Harwich Port.

Karen Townsend never thought she would find another role as fulfilling and meaningful as the 35 years she spent at the head of the class teaching high school English in New York. The East Dennis resident loved her students and they loved her. Years later, she is still in touch with many of them.

Almost six years ago, though, Townsend came across another role which has proved equally significant. A friend who worked at WE CAN asked her to help with organizing some data. WE CAN, which is based in Harwich Port—and stands for Women’s Empowerment through Cape Area Networking—is dedicated to empowering local women through mentoring, networking, and providing information and support. Townsend asked to volunteer with WE CAN, and the more time she spent at the center the more she connected with the organization’s mission and staff, and the women who seek out their programs.

“Everyone, whether it’s a staff person, a volunteer, or an attorney providing legal consults, is on the same page [at WE CAN],” Townsend says. “No one’s ego is reflected; the sole focus is on the women who walk through the door.”

As a volunteer, Townsend says she has found a role that brings her as much joy and fulfillment as teaching. She is involved in multiple facets of the organization, from helping out in the office to participating in the Pathmakers mentoring program. When she talks about her involvement, her passion for the work WE CAN does is apparent. She doesn’t use words like “the organization” or “they,” but rather “we”—and that’s because she’s invested in the mission and in everyone involved.

Townsend is just one of the many Cape and Islanders who give of their time and talents as volunteers for local charities, schools, churches, and other organizations—and often get back a lot more in return.

When individuals volunteer, it’s not just the organizations that benefit; a 2013 study by UnitedHealth Group, a Minnesota-based health care company that offers a variety of products and services, found that 76 percent of people who volunteered felt healthier, and 94 percent of people who volunteered in the last year say the effort improves their mood. When someone volunteers, they are offering one of life’s most important assets: time. Finding an organization that shares one’s values and connects people with similar passions and interests is one way to ensure that time and energy is well spent. Fortunately, the Cape and Islands have a wide variety of nonprofit and charitable organizations, each doing specific work to make the region a better place.