After a ten-year career in urban planning and the birth of my daughter, Katherine Gottshall Jackson ’03, I turned my attention to making a difference through volunteering in my local community. 

I've always tended to focus on local volunteer activities. Not to say that national activities aren't wonderful, but I think I can make much more of a difference in the little pies, the little pieces that are right around me.

When I lived in New Orleans, I was the founding executive director for Christmas in October, a national program which is similar to Habitat for Humanity, but for owner-occupied, low-income housing.  It was a project that was set up in an area of New Orleans that was gentrifying, and the historic preservation organization there wanted to help low-income owners who were already in the neighborhood avoid being pushed out. It's the same concept as Habitat for Humanity, where you take masses of volunteers and throw them at a project. In the case of Christmas in October, you do it for just one day. It involved a lot of painting, minor carpentry, that kind of thing.

Then, when my family moved to Texas, I got involved in an organization called National Charity League (NCL), which is a mother-daughter volunteer group. It's seventh through twelfth grade girls and their mothers doing volunteer work together. Eventually, when I was about to relocate to Raleigh, I asked the national president of NCL if there was a chapter in Raleigh.  And she said, "No, you want to start one?" So, I ended up being the founding president for the first chapter to be located in North Carolina!

Today, I am very involved with the Old Baldy Foundation, which is the historic organization on Bald Head Island that takes care of North Carolina's oldest lighthouse. I've done a number of different things for them from conducting research to giving tours. One of the things that I do is take annual trips to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to research some of the old records on the lighthouse, which for me is a direct play on the fact that I was a history major. It's a fascinating process to go through the old lighthouse records in the National Archives.

This year is Old Baldy's 200th birthday. And as part of that, the Old Baldy Foundation hired a historian to write a new history of not only the Old Baldy lighthouse, but the entire area. A great deal of the information that the historian used in his book is what came from what I found at the National Archives. I worked very closely with him, which again was a lot of fun. One of my favorite things to do is lead evening tours of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is normally open during the daytime, which it's great, you can climb to the top, see what it's like. But that wasn't what the lighthouse keeper did historically.  The lighthouse keeper would've gone up in the early evening to light the light, maintain it, et cetera. And so in the summer, every Thursday night I will open it for just an hour for people who want to climb.

I really enjoy it because for the most part, the people who come are people who've been there before, love Old Baldy, they're really interested. And lots of times, they come with children. And so, when they come in, rather than having them just climb immediately, I usually talk to them a bit and explain that that's the hour that the keeper would've been going up and what his duties were, what his life was like. So it's fun interacting with the different families that come.

In North Carolina, fourth grade is state history year. And for North Carolina, a major part of its history is its lighthouses. So we get a lot of fourth graders who visit with their families. In addition, Old Baldy Foundation started a fundraising campaign called Lighthouse Learners to pay for under-served students to visit Old Baldy, so they can learn the importance of the lighthouses in North Carolina's history.

Volunteering has given me much more than I have given. Quite honestly, since I retired when our first child was born, it's given me a lot of mental stimulation that, not going to an office every day, I wouldn't have had. But it's also given me the luxury, quite honestly, of picking what I want to work on. It's a tremendous luxury to be able to say, "Well, I'm interested in that, but I'm not interested in something else."

My advice for Wellesley students comes from my class dean, Maud Chaplin, who, as we were picking our majors said, "Pick something you love." I would say the exact same thing about any kind of volunteer activity. It can be a subject matter you love. Or, it could be something that maybe doesn't really grab you that much but you like the people who are working on it. But somehow or other, it tugs at you.

Kim Hamilton Gottshall ‘71 is a retired urban planner, who has held volunteer positions in community organizations throughout the U.S. Currently, she serves as secretary of the board at the Old Baldy Foundation in Bald Head, N.C.