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Originally published: 2013-04-29 11:37:57
Last modified: 2013-04-29 11:50:36

Celebrating nation's and Watauga's Volunteers

by Sherrie Norris

Since 1974, April has been set aside as National Volunteer Appreciation Month, a time to celebrate those individuals who give freely of their time and talents to make life better for those around them. 

Watauga County has hundreds of those people who choose to spend their time doing something above the ordinary and expected.

Whether pushing the juice cart at the hospital, tending to a public garden, leading a scout troop or filling boxes at the local food pantry, volunteers are a vital part of success in most any civic or community organization.

Those in the High Country are no exceptions.

According to the most recent data available from Volunteering and Civic Life in America, a report issued by the Corporation for National and Community Service, in 2011 North Carolina reported: 

26.4 percent of residents volunteer, ranking N.C. 33 among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
31.4 volunteer hours given per resident.
64.8 percent of people do favors for their neighbors on a regular basis.
1.92 million state residents are volunteers.
228.6 million hours of service were donated.
$5 billion of service contributed.

Overall, 64.3 million Americans (more than one in four adults) volunteered through a formal organization in 2011, an increase of 1.5 million from 2010. The 7.9 billion hours these individuals volunteered is valued at $171 billion. Among citizens who volunteered through an organization, the top activities included fundraising or selling items to raise money (26.2 percent); collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food (23.6 percent); engaging in general labor or transportation (20.3 percent); or tutoring or teaching (18.2 percent). 

Of those numbers, 40.2 percent of volunteerism was found to be in churches and religious-affiliated organizations, followed by 22.1 percent in education; 15.3 percent were in social services, 7.9 percent in health care, 4.5 percent in sports and arts; and about 10 percent in other unspecified areas.

Source: Current Population Survey: the Volunteer Supplement and the Civic Engagement Supplement, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 


The Hearns
Richard "Dick" Hearn and his wife, Joan, represent volunteerism at its best in Watauga County. The duo hit the ground running when they moved to the area in 1996 and have consistently given "about 25 to 30 hours per week," in some volunteer capacity, Joan said.

The organizations to which they have contributed their time and talents are numerous, but among those most closest to their hearts are Guardian Ad Litem, United Way, Watauga River Partners, Cooperative Extension Services, Adult Services Coalition, Project Lifesaver, Avery/Watauga End of Life Coalition, Elderly and Disabled Adult Abuse Prevention Task Force, Middle Fork Task Force, Friends of the Library and Hospice."Once we start, we stick with them," Joan said.

Why do they do it? "It keeps us young and busy," Richard said, "but that's just a small part of it. We enjoy helping people."Joan said that Watauga County is the only place in which they've lived that offers a hand to so many people and organizations. 

"It's such a great community," she said. "You get caught up in helping -- there's something unique in every group that we're with."

Rebecca Moore Having grown up in a home where giving and sharing what you have with others was taught and practiced, Rebecca Moore said she has volunteered "wherever I have lived since I was in high school." "It is a way to connect with people and create opportunity where none exists," she said. Before she joined the staff of High Country Women's Fund, Moore was on the advisory committee as a volunteer."

I am moved, every day, at what our local nonprofit agencies accomplish and the courage of the women we serve as they work hard to make a better life for themselves and their children," Moore said. As a member of the Boone Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Moore is involved with the Social Action Committee. "We work with other congregations to address issues that affect the everyday lives of our community, such as hunger, literacy and the civil right of various populations in who live in the High Country," she said. In volunteering, Moore said, "I receive far more than I give."

Judi Bryant

Judi Bryant says volunteering has been a privilege. For 10 years, Bryant has served Watauga Medical Center through pastoral care and coordinating the program that provides knitted and crocheted blankets for young patients, baby hats for newborns and hats for cancer center patients. 

"I work with a group of ladies who so willingly give of themselves and their time making these items," she said. 
The many heartwarming expressions of gratitude she and her peers receive from the recipients are most meaningful, she said. Having had a granddaughter whose kidney transplants most likely saved her life, Bryant was drawn to volunteer with Carolina Donor Services.

In an effort to heighten donor awareness, she travels around the region sharing her family's story that inspired her to become a donor. Also known as an "ambassador," Bryant and her husband visit the five-county regional offices of North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles each quarter, delivering materials and encouraging examiners to ask driver's license applicants if they would like to be a donor.

"I have gained much more than the recipients from my volunteering experiences," she said. 

Amber Mellon

Making a difference in the world around her is the reason Amber Mellon volunteers.

"To bring a smile to someone's face and to make life easier for others" is her mission, she said. 

"I want to pay it forward for all those who have been there for me," she said. 

Mellon said it is "a blessing to serve" -- as a Girl Scout leader and adult recognition chair for the organization, as well as hospitality manager for High Country Mommies and Sunday school teacher and list serve moderator at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church. 

"I enjoying watching my girls (scouts) grow into young women and experience things that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to do," she said. "They are learning to support each other and learn from each other, which is a very important lesson in life."

Mellon said she loves her role, too, in recognizing other scout leaders who go beyond the call of duty for the girls.