Honoring Those Who’ve Made a Difference
National Volunteer Week (April 17-23 this year) began in 1974, when President Richard Nixon signed an executive order establishing the week as an annual celebration of volunteering. In 1991, April became National Volunteer Month as part of President George H. W. Bush’s 1,000 Points of Light campaign.
Although COVID-19 created challenges that encouraged many volunteers to get creative in the way they serve, an increase in volunteerism is expected to continue this year. According to AmeriCorps (https://americorps.gov) 2,123,245 Georgia volunteers contribute 187.9 million hours of service annually.
To highlight those making a difference in our community, local nonprofits submitted spotlights, in which they brag on their volunteers. Thank you for all you do to make our community a better place!
Goshen Valley Boys Ranch
Waymark is a ministry that has been connected to Goshen Valley Boys Ranch (https://goshenvalley.org) for years. It serves children in foster care and, in particular, the individuals who serve at the ranch are a group of mostly men who come weekly to connect with a house of seven boys through mentoring, bringing dinner and studying the Bible. The most impactful part of this ministry is the volunteers are there week in and week out, consistently. Our boys are missing consistency from the adults in their lives, and this routine makes all the difference. During periods when COVID-19 prevented the volunteers from coming, they got creative. They brought food and dropped it on the front porch, met with the boys via Zoom and offered to come to the ranch and talk to the boys through their windows so that “they would know that they were not forgotten.” The ministry’s volunteers support the boys, houseparents and our ministry, and they live out an authentic Christianity that has hands and feet by doing and not just saying.
Next Step Ministries
“Generous persons will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” — Proverbs 11:25
Next Step Ministries, Inc. is on a mission to enrich the lives of individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities through engaging, enriching and therapeutic day programs. In order to best serve our families, we call upon our community to volunteer to further enrich the programs.
Nearly 10 years ago, Next Step Ministries happened upon a real-life hero when Al Cato walked through its doors. A few years later, his daughter, Kelly Pearson, joined in on the action.
This amazing father-daughter duo are instrumental in sharing the Next Step story and recruiting volunteers from Hillside United Methodist Church, where they are members. It all started with gardening, when Al brought some folks from Hillside to build raised flower boxes, so our individuals would have the opportunity to grow and cultivate their own garden. He recruited others to build custom doors for our sensory room, and a shelving/gate unit in our day program.
These days, the dynamic duo enjoy accompanying our individuals on bowling trips to the local Stars and Strikes. They can be seen assisting our individuals in perfecting their bowling form, beating their high score and, best of all, being powerful ambassadors for Next Step Ministries.
According to Al and Kelly, “We cherish every moment we are with our friends from Next Step. Working with each individual and support professionals has impacted us in ways we couldn’t have predicted and is a big part of our lives. We love sharing in little moments when our friends let their talent, ability and personality shine. We consider it a great privilege that we get the chance to interact with such amazing people. Because of our friends at Next Step, we get to experience genuine happiness, pure friendship and countless laughs.”
We encourage any individual, group, faith-based organization, corporation, educational institution or small business that is looking to plug into a very special ministry to reach out to Next Step Ministries, Inc. Your eyes will be opened, and your hearts will be full when you experience the amazing and beautiful world we get to experience each day, while the lives of those we serve are enriched. For more information, visit www.nextstepministries.net, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 770-592-1227.
The Children’s Haven | CASA Cherokee
“Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” — Josh Shipp
CASA (court-appointed special advocates) of Cherokee County trains, empowers and supports court-appointed community volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse and neglect. Our CASAs strive to ensure every child has a safe, permanent home and the opportunity to succeed.
It is difficult to single out a volunteer to spotlight, because each court-appointed special advocate is incredible and dedicated to each child they serve. Our CASAs stand by their CASA children throughout their journey in the foster care system. Each child deserves someone in their corner, a cheerleader and someone who is completely focused on their best interest. That is the job of a CASA volunteer. Whether it is being the child’s voice in court, celebrating special moments with them, such as attending their school play or sporting event, CASAs connect with their assigned children in many unique ways. Often, the child does not have another devoted adult in his or her life to be a part of those special times. These are ways that our advocates care for and support the children they serve.
Foster care is a difficult journey, and our CASA volunteers often are that one caring adult that will help a child become a success story. We are so grateful for each and every CASA volunteer!
For more information, visit cherokeechildrenshaven.org.
Volunteering in the community is an amazing, positive outlet and such an uplifting way to spend your time. But, for many people, it can be hard to know how to get started. Time constraints make it difficult, and sometimes it is hard to find an opportunity that is a good fit. But, with so many organizations doing good work in our community, there is sure to be a great opportunity for you. Here are five tips for making volunteer service a regular and enjoyable part of your life:
- Give yourself some credit. You may feel compelled to get involved in the community but also feel guilty because of how little you feel you can take on. Don’t play that game! Doing even a little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing. Over time, tiny drops of water fill a glass.
- Double dip! Volunteering doesn’t always have to be some “other” thing you do. Incorporate it into the patterns and schedule of your life. Want to find more social time? Invite a friend, or meet someone new while you’re there. Need a way to connect with a struggling family member? Go together, and serve. Looking for a fun activity for co-workers? Plan a service project. Want to do something productive during downtime at home? There are opportunities for that as well. Service can be the avenue for making other things in life better, too.
- Keep it simple. If you are just getting started, keep it simple. You don’t have to commit to something huge. Just commit to something! Look up an organization that needs donations, and invite your neighbors to contribute, or sign up for a single shift at a one-time event. Then, you can build the habit from there.
- Consider your passion. Be creative — find something that really sparks your interest. Is there a cause you feel strongly about or something you love to do? Consider how you could turn that skill or interest into a way to give back. From soccer to knitting, and cooking to writing, there is an opportunity for just about everything.
- Make it automatic. The best way to keep community involvement easy is to make it automatic. Schedule a specific time in your week or month to remember to look for an opportunity. Or, when you are ready, commit to something regular you can look forward to. The less effort you put into maintaining your goal, the more likely you are to succeed.
Ready to Get Started?
Those who are active in service have been shown to have better health, greater joy and even longer life. You truly have nothing to lose. Check out justserve.org to find opportunities near you. Here are four opportunities to consider:
- Volunteer online with the Smithsonian Institution.
Looking for a way to volunteer from home? There are so many virtual options. Check out this opportunity to help the Smithsonian with their research: https://bit.ly/3hn0izf.
- Pack lunches for kids.
Looking for another way to help from home? Gather supplies and decorate lunch bags to support at-risk kids. All you have to do is drop them off when they are ready. https://bit.ly/3poU6Li.
- Help with a cemetery cleanup.
Sign up to help with a cemetery cleanup day near you. The outdoor event offers a chance to meet new people, and all ages can contribute. Beautify the community, and honor families in our area. https://bit.ly/3M9MRRj.
- Volunteer at Rise Against Hunger.
This organization works through many channels to eliminate hunger. Volunteer for a shift to help pack meals, or run a fundraiser to sponsor meals. Bring your family or co-workers for a group experience. https://bit.ly/3vlro1Q.
Justserve.org is a free, nationwide website and app that works to match volunteers with nonprofit organizations and service opportunities. If you run a nonprofit or are looking for ways to make service a regular part of your life, check out justserve.org. You can sign up for regular updates and learn more about organizations nearby, too. JustServe makes it easy to just go out and serve!
– Susannah MacKay is a local JustServe specialist. She grew up in Marietta and loves helping strengthen her community through service! Follow her on Facebook @JustServeGeorgia.