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.