By Braden Hamelin
Growing up in the middle of nowhere, in the western Pennsylvania mountains, Jared Mitasky watched his neighbors pool their limited resources to keep their community up and running. Understanding the value of volunteering became ingrained in Mitasky’s everyday life and has stuck with him into adulthood. When he moved here from Pennsylvania in October 2021, he packed up that value and brought it with him. This Berwyn resident’s innovative brand of volunteering has already made a mark in his new neighborhood.
Mitarsky’s connections here sprouted when he joined the Buy Nothing College Park/Berwyn Heights group on Facebook, shortly after he moved to Berwyn with his fiancée. The group is part of a national trend focused on recycling things by donating them within a community of like-minded, eco-conscious enthusiasts.
“The goal is to create a gift economy that is hyperlocal,” Mitasky said, “so that instead of the people who live here using their money to buy resources from outside the community, we can instead use resources that we already have to accomplish what we want to accomplish.”
But one weekend in mid-January, when he had some free time, Mitasky took his buy-nothing enthusiasm a step further and began donating not just items, but services, to neighbors. He posted to the Facebook group that he was willing to offer a range of skills — and his time — for free.
“I just kind of threw it up there and said, ‘hey, you know, these are things I can do, this week is really good for me.’ But you know, obviously, in the future, if people need stuff they can certainly reach out,” he said.
Mitasky’s post attracted five or six people right off the bat, members of the group who asked about his services, including his fellow College Park resident Gina Tomko. Tomko hurt her back while cleaning up after July’s major storm and now needed help moving heavy items from her old shed to a new one.
“[Mitasky] came on over, and he got those items into our shed. And my wife and I were just so incredibly touched by his generosity,” Tomko said. “I had just made dinner, and I was like let me at least give you a … to-go container of hot meal. …He said ‘nope, not how this works.’”
That July storm, the one that led to Tomko’s back injury, turned out to have a silver lining: Mitasky said that the storm sparked new energy into his giving spirit. Indeed, after the storm blasted through and the skies had cleared, Mitasky grabbed his chainsaw. He figured he could help his neighbors cleanup in the wake of those destructive winds. A former firefighter, he also guessed he might be the only person outside moving debris in those early hours. New as he was to the neighborhood, he figured he could do some quick service.
But when he stepped outside, he saw neighbors also emerging from houses up and down the street. The entire neighborhood seemed to be coming together to pitch in.
“It was just this community effort that I had never experienced before, especially since I’m a relatively new resident,” he said.
Mitasky’s experience in his new community in the aftermath of that storm has changed his day-to-day life. He’s connected with people he otherwise wouldn’t have met. Mitasky’s ties to the community run deep now, and he’s eager and willing to connect even more.
“I became much more active on Nextdoor. I’ve made friends with the folks in town. So now I have, like, a D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] group with local people,” he said. “And of course, that has also kind of grown into a separate thing where we’re all going to get together to participate in the kinetic sculpture race in Baltimore.”
And while Mitasky is making new friends and connecting with his neighbors, he’s also inspiring others in the community; indeed, Tomko says Mitasky’s volunteer work has prompted other people to think about how they can give back, too. Some are eager to follow Mitasky’s example and volunteer, themselves.
“I feel like [Jared’s generosity] has brought people even closer. I’ve been in this neighborhood for 20 years, and I thought I knew just about everybody. But to meet Jared, and know that he just lives a couple streets over from me, was really kind of cool,” Tomko said. “And I would have probably never crossed paths with him, had he not given up his time in that post, and reached out.”