AUBURN — Crystal Harnden has always been a workaholic. So when she suffered a stroke that put her out of work in 2011, she was told to ease back into the workplace.

Harnden, an Auburn native, began volunteering and has not looked back since.

In just a few years, Harnden has racked up more than 1,200 volunteer hours with the Auburn Police Department. In an Auburn Hall office last week, she made sure to point out how that total does not include her hours in 2018. 

“I was a workaholic before, so I was scared to be spending all my time at home,” she said. 

After Harnden’s stroke, her occupational therapist provided her a list of volunteer opportunities nearby. Harnden already had plenty of experience working for Unum and, before that, at the Sun Journal, so she began volunteering at the Auburn Public Library.

Eventually, she landed at the Police Department, and has since become an irreplaceable member of the team, according to city staff. 

At the Police Department, Harnden works with geographic information systems coordinator and crime analyst Steve Harmon on various projects. Mostly data entry, research and analysis that make it quicker and easier for Auburn detectives to solve crimes. 

During a City Council meeting in May, Harnden was awarded a Spirit of America award, which honors volunteerism in Maine. 

A statement read to the public during the meeting said: “We would be lost without her. She is consistent, faithful and completely dedicated to the agency. Week in and week out, Crystal puts in countless hours doing critical data entry work. … Her pleasant attitude, endearing smile and hard work have made her a trusted member of the APD family. She embodies the Spirit of America and certainly deserves this recognition.”

Harnden said that when she was called into Police Chief Phil Crowell’s office a few days before the council meeting, she thought she was “in trouble.” Harmon was in the office, as was Liz Allen, communications and compliance manager. 

“She wasn’t in trouble at all,” Harmon said. “This award is well-deserved.” 

Harnden’s position is within the Police Department’s Volunteers in Police Service, a federal program launched locally in 2003. Harnden is the only volunteer working in data entry, but others in the program do traffic control for events or vacant house checks. 

Harmon said most of what Harnden does for the department makes it easier for officers and detectives to find accurate information. She updates the city’s data system to reflect the most up-to-date info, sometimes using social media. 

“I do a lot of things,” she said. “It’s fun, it gets me out of the house and keeps my skills sharp so that when I find a job, I’ll be ready.” 

Harnden has a language disorder known as aphasia, but it does not impact the work she does. Harnden said she is looking for a part-time job that will allow her to keep volunteering part time. 

Past winners of the Spirit of America award in Auburn include Dan Bilodeau of the Lake Auburn Community Center in 2017, and former City Councilor Tizz Crowley in 2016. Gerald “Scott” Whalen of the Edward Little Grandstand Club was also given the award this year. Auburn’s “VIPS” program also received the award in 2011. 

Harnden said her best friend came to the council meeting and took video recording of her accepting the award. Mayor Jason Levesque told the audience that Harnden is “a trusted member of the Auburn Police Department.” 

“She was crying,” Harnden said about her friend. 

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.

Crystal Harnden stands with Auburn city officials in late May after being given a Spirit of America award at a City Council meeting. From left: Mayor Jason Levesque, Police Chief Phil Crowell and Police Sgt. Jason Moore. (Submitted photo)

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