Transcript: Josh Maxwell, Chester County Commissioner (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E10: Josh Maxwell, Chester County Commissioner.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. I am very excited today to have my guest, Josh Maxwell. He is one of three county commissioners for the Chester County community. He is going to talk about volunteering in a little different aspect than what we’re used to. Welcome, Josh.

Josh Maxwell (00:20): Hey, thanks for having me.

Stormy Bell (00:22): Alright. Josh began his term as Chester County Commissioner in January of 2020, and is currently vice chair. His priorities are to ensure that our communities thrive, create opportunities for working families and safeguard equality for all. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Political Science at Lincoln University in Southern Chester County. Prior to his election as commissioner, he served 10 years as the mayor of Downingtown, where he lives with his wife Blair. I am looking forward to this. Back in June at The Taste of Coatesville, I had an idea and I shared it with Josh. It’s about time donations. People can donate their furniture or their clothes and get an In-Kind donation, but what about people who volunteer their time of a way of giving back for or saying thank you for what they’re doing? In October, I woke up and read the Daily Local News and there was this article about how Josh had found a way to make time donation work for first responders. I’m just gonna let Josh share about what he and the other two commissioners came up with and how it’s gonna help the people of Chester County. Take it away.

Josh Maxwell (01:35): Awesome. Thank you. This is exciting. We in this country rely heavily on volunteers to do the work on behalf of government. It’s not something you see in many other countries where the people who run towards and into a fire are actually volunteers from the local community that are nearby and willing to leave their house, go grab a firetruck, get into somebody’s house, and save some lives. The training, the preparation, and the regulatory things that have to be overcome by these volunteers is immense. It’s always difficult, especially as people start to move around more often and don’t work in the same town where they live quite often to get folks to fill these positions. So one of the things we decide we would do is create a way for folks to earn rebates on their property taxes by volunteering as an EMT or a local volunteer or firefighter.

We came up with a scoring system, a unique scoring system. Some counties are doing that doing it in a different way, but we have a way where you can earn 50% rebate on your county property taxes, all the way up to a 100% rebate on your county property taxes based on how many, how much training you go to, how many fires you show up to, how many ambulance calls you go on, things like that. Say you can only do 50%, that’s fine. That’s still valuable. Two people doing 50% of the work allows for a 50% rebate. We still get, between the two, a full commitment from a volunteer firefighter in Chester County. We’re rolling it out beginning next year. People will pay their property tax and then apply for the rebate based on the scoring system the following year. So exciting to see how it look. It works for the first year as any government program that’s well run. We expect to have to toggle the switches here a little bit to see how many people actually take advantage of this and then make sure that we evaluate it next year to see what worked, what didn’t work, and then make any changes that need to be made.

Stormy Bell (03:55): That’s awesome. How’s it been received by the first responders? Have you had anyone comment?

Josh Maxwell (04:01): They appear to be happy with this. Okay. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a request from them. They want to use it as a recruitment tool. So especially getting younger people, first time home buyers, folks are looking to pay off student loans or save up for their kids’ college. This is an opportunity for them. They seem to be very, very happy. We need to make sure we get the word out so that everyone that deserves this tax rebate gets rewarded with it.

Stormy Bell (04:32): Oh, that’s awesome. I love it. I love the fact that you found a way, and I hope that it spreads through all of Pennsylvania and beyond. All right, let me circle back to you. Do you have a volunteer journey and would you like to share that?

Josh Maxwell (04:50): I grew up in a small town, and I got really involved with my church when I was a teenager and started to volunteer visiting people in the hospital, taking flowers to folks, and then going on mission trips, things like that to Mexico. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then when I was in college, I was given an extra credit opportunity, which is something I needed, by volunteering at a nonprofit in Kent Square, which was La Comunidad Hispana and at LCH which they are actually known by. I was teaching GED classes and citizenship tests to people who are applying to be citizen or trying to further their education. Maybe they dropped out between entering this country or some cases were going back to school.

In some cases they graduated in their home country, but needed to get a GED here in this country to have access to better employment opportunities. I actually stayed an extra year volunteering at LCH post the extra credit opportunity I received. I’ve kind of been always involved with volunteering in an organized way whether it was with the Rotary Club for five years, good works once a month I’m repairing people’s homes, and now I serve on a lot of volunteer boards and have a lot of opportunities to get involved in and meet people and find ways to fund a lot of these nonprofits I was volunteering with just a few years ago.

Stormy Bell (06:29): Do you have a favorite that you’d like to work with? More human service, more arts, like, is there something you enjoy more than others?

Josh Maxwell (06:38): I think anything that fights to eradicate poverty tends to get my interest. I think a lot of our issues from a human services perspective flow out of people experiencing poverty. So whether it’s finding employment opportunities, academic opportunities, or just better health services, I tend to gravitate towards the areas that as a government really struggle to reach and struggle to get people the help they deserve.

Stormy Bell (07:06): If you could put it into 60 seconds, why do you volunteer?

Josh Maxwell (07:11): I think selfishly, it feels good. I feel good helping somebody else, right? I don’t think I would be a happy person if I didn’t spend a few weekends a year, you know, one weekend a month or a couple nights every week helping somebody else. I think I would feel probably anxious and not very proud of myself. I just wouldn’t feel like a good person. So I think [helping] other people on a volunteer basis fulfills me in some way.

Stormy Bell (07:49): Through your volunteer experience or your life journey, have you seen a story of impact somewhere where you really, the time that you were donating really impacted someone’s life, and what does that look like?

Josh Maxwell (08:04): When I was in college, one week a year we would build a ramp for somebody who needed it. That was kind of the thing we did every year. Somebody’s father was a contractor, we would source all material. We were 19 years old and sufficiently capable of being laborers and carrying wood around and drilling things. One time he did it, was a gentleman [and] he was living in a manufacturing home community. So we built the ramp and it was a pretty large ramp. It has to be one inch per foot. I mean, we’re talking up and back and up and he came out and we’re gonna take a photo with him. His wife mentioned he hadn’t been outta the house in 10 years. We’re like, whoa. Well, this is significant. He was very happy to be out in the sun and it made us kind of sit back and feel good about what we were doing.

Stormy Bell (09:12): Amazing. If you could encourage someone else to volunteer or get involved, what would you say to them?

Josh Maxwell (09:20): I would say we all have a skill that would be useful to help somebody else. Whether you’re a good writer, a good photographer, someone that likes to listen go to a local senior center and listen to stories, there’s no better way to kind of grow as a person than by helping somebody else out.

Stormy Bell (09:46): That’s awesome. Can you share a blooper, not that there’s something that went wrong, that it didn’t go as planned from your volunteer journey, maybe one of the boards that you’re on or someplace that you volunteer with, and what did you learn from it?

Josh Maxwell (10:04): Blooper. Like, blooper a mistake I made?

Stormy Bell (10:07): It doesn’t have to be a mistake, just something that didn’t go as planned.

Josh Maxwell (10:12): Well, sometimes these boards can be tense. Sometimes you disagree on things like budgets and who should work there or who shouldn’t work there. At times I’ve navigated those decisions poorly. Many of those times I’ve learned from them. I think some of that stemmed from being on some boards, getting elected the most in my mid twenties and being asked to serve on some of these. At one point in time I thought somebody who [volunteered] for us was being treated really unfairly. I think I’ve learned a little bit to see the big picture and manage those relationships a little more professionally and making sure that we disagree in a positive way. There’s a little bit of small politics and everything, whether you’re a university professor or on a nonprofit board. I don’t mean cable news, political, I mean how we prioritize different things. It’s important to be able to navigate that in an effective way, in a professional way.

Stormy Bell (11:26): Gotcha. We’re almost done. I’m going to let you love on Chester County. From a commissioner’s point of view, why should people check us out? We have a large amount of nonprofits in Chester County. You get to see us from a really bird’s eye view. You kind of have a wide angle and a focused angle of who we are and what we do. Just love on us.

Josh Maxwell (11:57): Well, it’s the starters, like where do we stand out? 70% of Chester County residents live within one mile of a park, trail, or preserve. Everyone wants to live near near a trail, a park, or preserve and 70% of our 530,000 residents do. This is a wonderful place to live a quiet life with a tremendous amount of resources between public schools, healthcare, [and] access to some transportation. This county really has a lot of assets and much less struggles than almost all of our neighboring counties, if not most of the counties in the country. We’re always trying to build this cohesion here in Chester County. This is a county that likes to stay out of the news. We like to do our own thing quietly and together. You’ll be around people that just want their entire community to thrive. I think it’s a special place to be.

Stormy Bell (13:07): That’s awesome. Well, that concludes our interview. No really hard questions today. Today’s actually Veterans Day, so I hope you have a great Veterans Day. To my listeners, thank you for tuning in. I hope you found as much value in today’s episode as I did. If you did, please go to wherever you listen to the podcast and rate, review, and share it with your friends. Thank you and have a great day.

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