Day by Day: Hearts, not honors, drive volunteers
By LIZ THOMPSON
July 16, 2018
This Week Community News
They build, repair, clean up, train and rescue. They knit. They quilt. They stock food-pantry shelves. They work in thrift shops to earn money for cancer research. They plan church potlucks or vacation Bible school. They do odd jobs around their community.
You know these people; you might see one in the mirror.
They are volunteers.
Some receive awards for their hours of selfless labor. Most do not.
The Jefferson Award Foundation is a national recognition system honoring community and public volunteerism in America.
The mission of the foundation is “to power others to have maximum impact on the things they care about most. Through celebration, we inspire action. Our programs and partnerships drive Americans to change their communities and the world.”
When I received the phone call from Angela Pace, WBNS-10 TV director of community affairs, about my nomination, I said, “What did I do?” She chuckled.
The day of the award ceremony, my curiosity led me to talk to other nominees. The one consistent comment was, “I didn’t do this for awards.”
We were all stunned and honored to be there.
Almost 10 years has passed with many more awardees. I asked Angela for her take on why people volunteer.
“We’re looking for that person who saw a need, a problem, a void, and, instead of saying, ‘Someone should do something about that,’ says, ‘I think I’m going to do something about that.’
“For most of our nominees, their volunteer project is very personal and stems from an event, a situation that hits home. They do what they do to try to keep the bad that has happened to them from happening to others. They do what they do to help chip away at, in their small way, a much bigger problem. They do what they do to fill a void, to honor a lost loved one, to bring peace and quiet and hope and beauty and smiles to those who need it.
“Something in their gut tells them … this means something to me … this is something I have to do. And they do it. And they’re not looking for recognition or reward. I can tell that when I call to let them know they’ve been nominated for a Jefferson Award.
“I hear the disbelief in their voices … then the humility and the genuine gratitude,” Pace said. “And I know then that my judges have made the right choice. It makes my day.”
Volunteers spend countless hours helping make their corner of the world a little better, never looking over their shoulder to make sure someone records their actions.
The man who clears snow and ice from the sidewalks and driveways for those who cannot just hopes for a hot cup of coffee when he gets home.
The women who make lap quilts for cancer patients to use during chemo treatments pick the colors and pray over the finished work.
Knitters and crocheters who make hats and scarves for the destitute and fleece blankets, hats and scarves for homeless and veterans in the Stand Down program hope for the day the need disappears.
Children and adults take part in food drives for those in need.
People spend hours cutting and crocheting grocery bags to make plastic mats for the homeless. Why do they do it? Why spend hours working for strangers or for no reward or recognition?
There is no one pat answer — and there is a reward, though it is not tangible.
The reward is making a difference — and likely not being aware at the time. The reward is helping another, doing the right thing for the right reasons and hoping for the best and for an improved future.
Those who weave the yarn, plastic and threads, donate food, help their neighbors in a myriad of ways, lend a hand and use their gifts to benefit others don’t expect awards.
A smile will do, and maybe a hug. Better yet, the reward will come when their example inspires someone else to take action.
A simple, “How can I help?” is a good start.