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Her secret is her service

March 20, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

Editor's Note: This is the third story in a week-long series running during National Women's History Month recognizing women in the Tri-State area who make a difference in their communities.

Yvonne Butts-Mitchell believes the benefits of volunteering must be one of the world's best-kept secrets.

"It must be a big secret, what it does for you," she said. "If it wasn't a secret, none of the boards and groups would be struggling for volunteers."

A resident of Fort Loudon, Pa., and public affairs manager for Sprint's Chambersburg office, Butts-Mitchell was able to jump-start her career by volunteering to put her public relations skills to work for various organizations.

More than 25 years later, volunteering is part of the fabric of Butts-Mitchell's life.

But she credits support from an understanding family and employer and the efforts of other volunteers for her successes.

"There are a lot of people behind me," she said.

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Butts-Mitchell, 47, said she discovered early that volunteer work did a lot more than give her career a boost.

"The untold story of community service is I get back 10 times what I put in," she said. "Now, I'm passing that concept on to my kids that you do better when you give back."

Her husband Doug, and children Kyle, 14, and Katie, 12, often are at her side at walkathons and fund-raisers.

Butts-Mitchell said she enjoys meeting people through her participation on the boards of organizations like the Chambersburg Area Council for the Arts, Leadership Franklin County, the United Way Day of Caring and the Chambersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

She said she has learned from her work with more than a dozen agencies in Franklin and Bedford counties that the key to a successful volunteer effort is collaboration among many individuals.

Alone, Butts-Mitchell said, her efforts would not be enough to carry off things like the holiday party for teenage mothers she helps organize through the Crossings Program.

"I'll send out an e-mail for help and my phone will be ringing off the hook" within a couple of hours, she said.

There also is the Christmas lights program, through which Sprint volunteers string hundreds of white lights on trees along the second block of Chambersburg's South Main Street during the holidays.

Volunteer work also doesn't box you in to one category and has allowed Butts-Mitchell to take risks with her career she otherwise might not have taken, she said.

"I don't do numbers. But I stepped forward to be on the financial committee of our town's bicentennial planning," she said.

"I stay energized by moving around," she added.

The ability to jump between organizations and take ideas that worked in one place and apply them somewhere else keeps things fresh and exciting, Butts-Mitchell said.

"I'm anxious to see where I might be in five years. Maybe my left brain will kick in and I will be on other finance committees," she said.

But through her volunteer work, Butts-Mitchell said she sees one thing that disturbs her.

"The demographic of volunteers is aging," she said. "It's really difficult for everyone to draw the same number of people in as are leaving."

So Butts-Mitchell is doing what she can to pass her community service spirit on to her children and hopes other youths will follow.

"I love it that schools are starting to include a community service requirement," she said.

Butts-Mitchell said she learned early on that no matter what you do, how big or little, it's all appreciated.

"People worry about a long-term commitment. I've never met an organization that wouldn't take whatever you have to offer," she said.

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