For St. Bonaventure University graduate Anne Carlson, giving is better than receiving
by Susan Anderson
Anne Carlson’s earliest memories are filled with moments of sharing and helping others.
It was not unusual for this Olean native and her four siblings to give up things they owned in order to make the lives of others more comfortable — a reflection of the generosity taught them by their parents.
“My mother, especially, raised us to always look at other people before we looked at ourselves,” Carlson said. “If she knew someone needed something, nothing in our household was off-limits. She figured we had everything we needed and she just gave.”
Today, Carlson continues to respond to the needs of others.
Her volunteer work spans more than two decades and involves more than a dozen organizations in the greater Olean area.
She has helped gut a mud-filled home in post-Katrina Louisiana with Bona Responds; logged numerous hours glazing windows, re-roofing, and painting local homes for Rebuilding Together; and has served as Sunday school superintendent, youth sports coach and river trail cleaner, to name just a few volunteer experiences.
But Carlson is quick to tell you that she has gained more through these efforts than she has ever given.
“I’ve learned patience,” she said, adding that she has come to more deeply appreciate “what I have, who I am and the people around me.”
Her greatest inspiration, Carlson will tell you, is her family.
Husband Andrew and daughters Ashley and Amanda often volunteer alongside her, and Carlson and her siblings retain a strong bond. She is quick to share a ring she wears inlaid with the birthstones of her sisters and brother, and is proud to state that every bit of her volunteer work “is tied to someone in my family.”
It is important to her that she share with her daughters the opportunity to experience the grace that is inherent in giving.
“Ever since we were little, my mom got us involved with things,” said Amanda Carlson, 17, who this holiday season alone has joined her mother in caroling at the local nursing homes, ringing the Salvation Army bell and creating care packages for soldiers around the world.
“My mom would do anything for anyone, and she has taught me how to get out and help people and not judge anyone,” she said.
Carlson earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from St. Bonaventure University in management science and professional leadership, respectively. A nontraditional student, she returned to college when her daughters started grammar school, a time she remembers as challenging yet exhilarating.
As assistant district manager of the Olean Social Security Administration office, she credits the concept of servant leadership introduced to her while at St. Bonaventure as being a key part of her success.
“I really do believe that in order to work best with people you do so by working with them over a period of time and helping them,” she said.
She cites “building relationships” as the most important aspect of her career. “The one thing I take to my work with me every day is I work for the people who walk through the door,” Carlson said.
She was selected in 2004 for a slot in the Social Security Administration’s national leadership development program, which is intensive training designed to develop future leaders for the agency, and has since mentored other leaders-in-training.
“Anne has a can-do attitude,” said Ken Park, district manager of the Olean Social Security office who has worked with Carlson for the past 10 years. “Our main function is to serve the public, and that is one of her strengths. She is an extremely caring individual.”
Judy Duggan York, who met Carlson seven years ago through their work on the Olean High School Alumni Association board, agrees. “She’s just a giving person, top-notch,” said Duggan York. “She really listens and she really cares.”
Though she has turned a childhood of generous acts into a way of life, Carlson insists she is the lucky one.
“I get so much more than I’ve ever, ever given,” she said. “I’m very blessed.”