This is National Volunteer Week, seven days of celebrating the good will of millions across the country who have given of their time, their hearts, and their resources to enhance lives and causes that are meaningful to them.
Locally, large and small nonprofit organizations working to improve neighborhoods, strengthen families, save non-human animals, and lift people up could quite simply not do their very important work without the generosity of others. More than 8000 people give of their time to the FreeStore FoodBank alone. And that is just one of hundreds of causes in our Greater Cincinnati area.
Tonight I am told the staff and board members of nonprofit Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, that has empowered more than 160,000 vulnerable children and young adults since its founding through the mentorship of positive adult role models, will be very busy. They will be calling EVERY active CYC volunteer and thanking each one for his/her time and effort.
Wow, that is a lot of phone calls!
They will be reaching out to people like Harry Blanton, a CYC mentor for 18 years. His first mentee was Patrick, who at nine years old had an incarcerated father and a mother struggling with addiction. Thanks to Blanton’s influence in his life, Patrick attended St. Xavier High School, then Xavier University, and is now a financial counselor pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership. He and Harry are still close, and even recently attended CYC’s Trivia Night for Brighter Futures together, playing on the same team. “It is a joy to have Patrick in my life and I can’t imagine it without him,” said Harry.
The feeling is shared by Patrick. “I am an example that even though the cards are stacked against you, you can succeed if you have the right people on your side,” he attested. “CYC provided that person to me: Harry Blanton.”
Success stories like theirs is not uncommon at CYC. Just last fall, former mentee Lamont got married with his mentor Tim Clarke by his side – as none other than his best man. Matched when Lamont was just 13, the resulting relationship was so important to Lamont that instead of wedding favors, he gave a gift to CYC in honor of every wedding guest.
The gesture’s weight was not lost on Tim. “When I saw on the place setting the little card, I was unable to give the regular speech I had prepared,” he said. “I just had to thank him. For him to want a gift to give to CYC for this to happen to someone else—I got emotional. It was a great day.”
Volunteers are everywhere
These are such beautiful stories. And with those two, there are thousands more too of people all around us, and even ourselves, who are making a positive difference.
The dictionary definition of a volunteer is: a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself a service or undertaking. This means that to be a volunteer doesn’t necessarily mean you are going through a social service agency. It is as simple as an act of kindness to a stranger on the street or an extended hand or ear to a friend or loved one who needs someone to be there.
Today, let’s celebrate those wonderful gifts. But also, let’s commit to finding ways of giving those gifts every day.
On October 10, the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative (CYC) will pay homage to young examples of perseverance and achievements, and the important role of caring adults in their lives, at its 10th annual Dream Makers Celebration: “Diplomas & Dreams” fundraiser.
Chloe Nared, a senior at Finneytown High School, and Shannon Chambers, a senior at Aiken College and Career, will each be receiving a $1,000 scholarship from the Cincinnati Bar Association Young Lawyers section. Against huge obstacles they have pushed their boundaries and found their own success.
Unlike so many of her classmates, Chloe didn’t know about stability growing up. With a mother who was unable to provide for her and a father who could not raise her, the little girl acted out – but only as a cry for help. She skipped school, got suspended, had poor grades and was influenced by negative peer pressure.
It was when her aunt saw Chloe’s potential, gained full guardianship and moved the young girl to Finneytown that Chloe’s life turned around. In a short time, the troubled teen has already learned what it is like to be on the A-Honor Roll.
In CCA, she has been the key source of motivating and connecting her peers. In her classroom, she has worked closely with speakers and helped organize career development meetings. On her school’s campus, she has played a key role in organizing social awareness projects and events. When one of her classmates lost her mother, Chloe took it upon herself to hold a collection.
And as for school, that suspended trouble maker is now a top student and has interned in an occupational therapy office, a career path she is now determined to see in her future.
Shannon took it upon himself to ask if he could live with a friend’s family so that he could make it to school on time; and now this young man of wisdom and integrity is third in his class with a 4.017 GPA. He is a member of the National Honor Society, the National Society for Black Engineers, and the leadership team of the Science Club; an officer of Men, Organized, Respectful and Educated; and captain of the wrestling, football and track teams. And, whenever he can, he gives back through community service.
Without any other mode of transportation, he walked from Finneytown to Western Hills so that he could turn in his essay to become a GE Scholars Program finalist (and he was accepted!). Shannon also won a $5,000 Straight A Scholarship from the Anthony Munoz Foundation.
His classmates look up to him as an inspiration and role model. It is easy to see why.
The CYC Dream Makers Celebration: “Diplomas & Dreams” will be held at The Phoenix, 812 Race Street. The keynote speaker will be Jimmy Wayne – a musician and entertainer who is a passionate advocate for vulnerable youth.
It will benefit CYC mentoring, college readiness and success, dropout prevention and career preparation services for students in Cincinnati Public Schools and four other public school districts.