Larry Kotan leads a volunteer event at the Community Cycling Center. Photo: Megan Zabel Holmes

April is National Volunteer Month! Hands On Greater Portland, United Way's volunteer program, is lucky to claim the support of thousands of dedicated local volunteers. We sat down with longtime volunteer leader Larry Kotan to hear about what motivates him to give back.

How did you get involved with Hands On Greater Portland?

My first experience with Hands On happened in the fall of 2004, when I answered a Craigslist posting to join a TeamWorks volunteer group. Sadly, the woman who organized the group had to pull away after only a few months. Rather than let the group dissolve, I took the Hands On Portland leadership training so that we could continue volunteering as a team. After that, I started leading volunteer projects with a few organizations, like the Community Cycling Center and Transition Projects.

What do you get out of volunteering?

So much!  For me, in addition to the well-being you experience when you do something for someone else, there are so many positives. It’s allowed me to make new friends and connect with the larger community and it’s helped me hone my leadership skills. Most importantly, it’s helped me pass on important life lessons to my daughters.

"As a dad, there really is nothing better than watching your kids serve others and soak up the lesson that sincere, unselfish giving is important and necessary."

What type of projects do you most enjoy doing, and why?

If something is outdoors or really hands-on (pun intended), I really enjoy it. Things like path mulching in a park, or de-nailing with the Rebuilding Center, or planting with Friends of Trees, for instance.  But interestingly enough, I’ve come to really love the meal services as well. There is just something so vital and intimate about preparing a meal for someone.  And a side benefit of preparing food is that my cooking skills went from absolutely nonexistent to now somewhat marginal!

How have you seen your volunteer work impact your community?

I’ve seen how my volunteer work can really make a difference.  In some cases it’s change at a micro-level—like what happens when you serve someone a meal, or when you help clean rooms at Kinship House. In other cases, some of my volunteer efforts have led to large-scale changes at the city level—for instance working with the East Portland Action Plan to advocate for more services, resources and parks for the east side of town.

You do volunteer work with your daughters. Tell us what that’s like.

Volunteering has been such a big part of my daughters’ development into good humans, and I feel grateful that Hands On Portland has basically acted as a “parent’s resource” in that regard! As a dad, there really is nothing better than watching your kids serve others and soak up the lesson that sincere, unselfish giving is important and necessary. Here’s a great example of the pay-off:  A couple months ago I volunteered with Northwest Children’s Outreach. Imagine my surprise when I saw that my oldest daughter, who’s now 25 years old, had volunteered at the same event! Neither one of us had any idea that the other had signed up until we both showed up there! Fantastic. What else could a dad want?


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