German Village Gazette

Village notebook

Volunteerism, historic preservation go hand-in-hand

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Historic preservation, it seems, is a field many people are interested in, but one in which few people know what to do.

I stumbled upon it myself. I was young and dumb and had a perfectly good job in politics that I disliked a little more each day (at the time ... I can't quite figure out why I hated it so much now, but as I said, young and dumb) so graduate school seemed like a good idea.

Again, young and dumb. I knew I loved history, but knew I didn't want to teach it.

And then I found historic preservation and it felt like a perfect fit.

Quitting my job and making my husband quit his so we could move from New Jersey to South Carolina for a master's degree didn't seem like that big a deal. (Clearly, and thankfully, we were both young, dumb and optimistic.)

Studying public history means you want to work with history but in a non-academic environment.

After two years of surrounding myself with top-notch professors and very competitive students, I found myself surrounded by an army of volunteers, civic activists and social butterflies in German Village.

And, finally, I was grateful for being so young and dumb.

These were the doers. These were the people getting it done -- current projects and those yet to be conceived by incredibly creative people.

These were people interested in historic preservation, in its myriad niches, pockets and chapters. These people are you.

To live in German Village or any historic neighborhood or district, is to have an interest in historic preservation.

You don't have to be a docent in a house museum to appreciate beautiful architecture.

And incidentally, informal and quirky architecture can be beautiful architecture, and I dare anyone walking down Sycamore Street when the sun is setting "just right" to argue that.

You don't have to know who was born, lived and died in a house to know its story.

You don't have to know the secretary of the interior's standards to get it (but you do have to be willing to consider them).

I have never encountered a group of people with such a spirit of volunteerism and I have never seen a group of people come together so quickly when so necessary -- and I absolutely believe the two are linked.

Volunteers serve on committees, work in the Meeting Haus Visitor Center, help with tours, help maintain Schiller and Frank Fetch parks, plant and lovingly tend the Third Street planters, bring Shakespeare to the public each summer, serve on the German Village Commission, tend a community garden and collect food for Livingston Avenue UMC's food bank.

Then there are the almost subconscious ways that people volunteer to make German Village better.

People plant spectacular window boxes each spring, keep the Umbrella Girl warm each winter and shovel sidewalks for friends.

The "thank yous" aren't material or tangible, but I'd take a Fun Committee event or impromptu cup of coffee with a friend at a neighborhood restaurant over something tangible any day.

And yes, two of your biggest intangibles are living in a neighborhood with a "Fun Committee" and fabulous restaurants. There is thanks enough.

So volunteer your time if you have it.

Share your ideas, your energies and your passion.

If you see something that seems broken, share your vision for fixing it.

If you see something you want to be a part of, please join in.

It is the willingness to improve upon German Village that has made our neighborhood so vibrant.

It is the willingness to get involved that fosters friendships and communities.

German Village and the German Village Society are better for this spirit of volunteerism and community.

And I'm better for once being so very young and dumb.

It took me to German Village and I've taken German Village with me every day since.

Jody Graichen, the German Village Society's director of historic preservation programs from 2005-2009, submitted the Village notebook column. Graichen now serves as an historic preservation consultant to the German Village Society from her home in Athens, Ga.

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