The Joy of Giving Back
Fishers Nonprofit Volunteer of the Year Tom Rich Has a Heart for Community
Photography Provided by the City of Fishers
When Tom Rich attended the Fishers City Service Awards on March 4, he knew he was in the presence of greatness. City leaders were distributing awards in various categories including public works, fire department, police department, and parks and recreation. When Rich’s name was called as the Nonprofit Volunteer of the Year recipient, he was surprised.
“There are so many good people in this community,” Rich says. “To win was really nice.”
In fact, it was the local community that drew him to volunteering in the first place. Prior to retirement, Rich, 76, owned a small manufacturing firm in downtown Indy. However, Rich’s career spanned multiple positions. He’s been a teacher, public school administrator, college professor and newspaper distributor.
“I’ve been so fortunate in my life that everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve liked working with people,” says Rich, who knew he’d want to give back to the community during his golden years. “I just feel the community gives everything to us and they deserve to get something back from us.”
When he learned that leaders from the Fishers Arts Council, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that advocates for the arts in Fishers, were looking for people to join their board, he decided to give it a try.
“I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, but I can organize,” Rich says. “They said, ‘Why don’t you display art in City Hall?’”
Every month Rich and the other seven council members hang artwork in City Hall, and each piece is tied to a certain theme. For instance, the volunteers recently paid homage to artists with disabilities.
“We called it a Celebration of Inclusion, and all of the arts, including Conner Prairie, City Hall, and 18 different businesses, showcased artists with disabilities such as blindness, hearing loss and developmental challenges,” says Rich, who now serves as president of the Fishers Arts Council.
All of the art was for sale, as the goal was to promote each artist as an entrepreneur.
The council plans to hang artwork from seniors at Fishers High School and Hamilton Southeastern High School.
“We reach out to businesses to ask them to underwrite scholarship funds,” says Rich, noting that the council secured $2,000 in college scholarship money from Star Bank for local seniors.
Last year Fishers Arts Council members displayed 758 pieces of art in City Hall by 223 different artists – including 61 artists with disabilities and 51 high school seniors. The Arts Council leaders also invite senior citizens to contribute artwork. In fact, there is an 88-year-old artist contributor who lives at the Reserve at Hamilton Trace.
In partnership with the Fishers parks and recreation department, the Fishers Arts Council also organizes the Fishers Arts Crawl, linking businesses with artists in order to draw people to local downtown businesses. To find local artists, council members typically organize a call-out, working with Nickel Plate Arts leaders. The council members also reach out to colleagues at the Indiana Arts Commission, and pay artists to work with students and parents on art projects during the Winter Wonderland art exhibit.
“These artists teach how to do a card or bows or alcohol ink, so when you leave, you can take something home with you,” Rich says.
Rich and his wife of 20 years, Connie, have three daughters and two grandchildren. He has discovered that volunteering can be the best medicine for loneliness and despair.
“If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, go help somebody,” Rich says. “I’ve had two stem cell transplants and prostate cancer. Rather than sit around moping about it, I’ve decided to get busy helping my community.”
For anyone who is interested in volunteering but perhaps a little nervous to dive into the process, Rich suggests starting out small, giving an hour or two per month.
“Get into it gradually, but be prepared to make friends for life,” Rich says. “The people who volunteer are some of the most wonderful people in the world.”
To learn more about the Fishers Arts Council, call 317-537-1670, email info@FishersArtsCouncil.org, or visit fishersartscouncil.org.