By RENEE FITE
When former Sen. Jim Wilson chooses to volunteer, finding organizations with a common purpose and similar goals is important. He believes the skills and interests of the volunteer should match the organization’s needs and mission.
“I am rewarded with personal satisfaction from volunteering,” Wilson said. “If satisfaction is absent or the effort becomes a burden, I would be of little help.”
He is president of the Tahlequah Kiwanis Club, which raises raise money and volunteers service hours to strengthen communities and serve children. The membership, made up of scores of caring local citizens, meets weekly to plan and implement efforts to help children.
Wilson believes there are many other organizations with worthy causes in Cherokee County.
“Virtually all of them are challenged with raising money to support their mission,” said Wilson. “I think it’s important to be passionate about the cause and be prepared to contribute the time and effort necessary to make a difference.”
Wilson’s mother served as a model for volunteerism.
“She was generous with her time for causes and people in need,” he said. “Conversely, as a divorced mother of four, she occasionally received help from a community that knew we struggled financially.”
Like many people, Wilson has found time for volunteering after retirement, but he’s no stranger to community service. He also appreciates the value of citizenship in others.
“Retirement allowed me to offer some of my newly unstructured time to increase activity in efforts by local organizations whose missions enhance our city and county,” he said. “Having learned the value of volunteering, I lost my resolve as I pursued life and a career. Moving to Tahlequah almost 30 years ago, I observed a progressive community unparalleled in Oklahoma for its civic pride and public involvement.”
Wilson’s impetus for volunteering was spending time in the state Legislature.
“Frequently, my office would field citizen concerns and frustration demonstrating the cracks in our social fabric. It was no longer possible to ignore the bumps in society, many of which are addressed by local civic organizations and churches,” he said.
Prior to retiring, he was involved with the Program of Assertive Community Treatment. The purpose of the program is to lessen the debilitating symptoms of mental health issues, making it more likely the participant can live independently.
“By ensuring compliance with proper treatment, the probability is reduced for expensive in-patient psychiatric care or incarceration for legal infractions,” said Wilson.
There is a significant need for individual financial management of Social Security Disability benefits. If the Social Security Administration determines the recipient cannot properly manage the money, it will appoint a payee, he said.
“Many locals, including myself, volunteer to act in that capacity. Invariably the process is not as simple as merely depositing funds and paying bills,” he said. “As a practical matter, the benefits are generally insufficient to cover all the expenses many of us consider necessary, such as dental care. The payee typically becomes a resource or mentor for non-financial needs as well. If a professional manager is hired, the recipient will have less money available and less support for personal needs.
Historic preservation is a priority for Wilson, who has volunteered at the Thompson House for a dozen years.
“Tahlequah has lost many of its historical properties over the years,” he said. “The Thompson House was in disrepair and would probably have been destroyed had local citizens not organized to save and restore the property.”
Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cherokee Country is another group that benefits through Wilson’s volunteerism.
“Our mission is to advocate for safe, permanent homes for abused and neglected children. At the request of the juvenile court, volunteers work with the Department of Human Services, attorneys and community resources as a representative of the interests of children,” he said.
He is one of the original members of Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance, a multicounty collaboration giving the participants a regional identity and a common voice.
“We identify and promote regional priorities deemed important for long-term economic vitality and quality of life issues. With a consolidated voice representing a region of 600,000 people we are able to make rural needs as formidable as the needs of our friends in the metropolitan areas,” said Wilson.
Perhaps the most difficult issue he dealt with as a legislator, he said, was finding access to health care for constituents.
“With a median annual household income of $35,000 and a national average family insurance plan costing approximately $16,000, access is limited,” he said.
“We’re fortunate in Cherokee County that our Native American population has access to Cherokee Nation Health Services. Some have employer sponsored plans. Others are at a loss to find medical help.”
Wilson belongs to the Cherokee County Health Coalition, which was formed years ago to compare notes on a hepatitis C outbreak. Wilson is also a board member for NeoHealth.
“Consistent with generally accepted national goals of improving health indicators and my personal experience, I volunteered to be a board member of NeoHealth,” he said.
“Its mission is to serve an underserved area or population, offers a sliding fee scale and provides comprehensive services.”