I first met Lisa McEwen some 25 years ago when I was a candidate for our school board. She was working on the re-election campaign of an opponent, and it impressed me that I was meeting my first “super-parent volunteer” that Sylvania is famous for.
Of course, after 10 years in the community, by then I was already aware of “parent-helpers” in the form of room mothers and tee-ball coaches. But Lisa was a stay-at-home mom, and at the time she was a girl and boy scout leader, coach of a fast-pitch softball team, and mentor in the after-school “Odyssey of the Mind” program … in addition to helping with local politics. I secretly wished she was supporting me.
I recently thought of her when I learned that April is “National Volunteer Month,” which celebrates the impact volunteers have on our lives and communities. Usually unpaid, volunteers donate a part of their lives doing work that nobody else likes to do: cleaning up after an event, fostering shelter dogs, and generally performing the “good deeds” that we occasionally write about here.
Lisa is still at it, currently providing transportation for stroke survivors, serving on the Trail Patrol for the Metroparks, and working with preschool children through Read for Literacy for 11 years. “I never felt I needed to define myself by a career, yet I’m really someone who likes to be involved,” said the Tantallon Circle resident. “Over time, I transitioned from bigger volunteer assignments to helping people I know … which has much more impact for me.”
Also in Sylvania, Pastor Randy Fall at Westgate Chapel pointed us to a volunteer ministry called “Westgate Cares,” a service opportunity with a broader yet more spiritual focus. Steve Mohr, along with his wife, Marisa, and his three kids, is one of many Westgate families volunteering in the program. Together they have completed projects that mostly include yard work at the homes of shut-in or older individuals who may be physically or financially unable to do the work themselves.
“We participate in part to teach and model for our children what it means to be Christ-like. We want the concept of putting other people’s needs ahead of their own to be normal to them, that serving others should be the natural thing to do,” Mohr said. “The part that I enjoy most is when the project is finished because we always try to have a conversation with the homeowner. It is a connection with a stranger who may not get many visitors and always seems grateful for the work that got done. It is at that moment that the true joy of serving others becomes real…it energizes me to see the smiles on their faces.”
Finally, at Notre Dame Academy, we found a culture that not only connects every student with service opportunities but is actually inspiring students to be volunteer leaders throughout their lives. This year, nine young women at NDA are implementing a program they identified and put together themselves called “Letters for Rose” which is designed to reduce loneliness for elders living in care facilities.
They are all candidates for the school’s rigorous International Baccalaureate (“IB”) diploma…a self-driven yet mentored program that fosters inquiry, critical thinking, and problem-solving. All IB candidates must do a service project called CAS (for creativity, action, and service) in their junior and senior years. They are required to identify a community need and then apply their skills and knowledge to address it.
That is how NDA seniors Dahlia Daboul and Ava Bowers found “Letters for Rose,” which was created by two New Jersey girls at the start of the pandemic. Daboul and Bowers felt it filled a serious need here, too, so they initiated a local chapter and enlisted classmates to help with outreach, transportation, and social media. The two work with nursing home staff members are creating a day at school where all students can create letters and art, and are beginning to get letters back from elder care residents.
“The CAS program is allowing us to get a different outlook about volunteering because it is hands-on, not just going to a soup kitchen or helping with a drive,” said Bowers. “Instead, we are putting this together and helping decide exactly what the program will be.”
“The experience has given me a really great view of what volunteering can do because we get to see it first hand,” explained Daboul. “It’s made me aware of how incredibly hard it is for people to put volunteer projects together. It takes commitment, but it’s also very rewarding. The CAS experience has inspired me to want to volunteer in college and beyond because you get to see how much it pays off.”
Added Ava, in a fitting coda for National Volunteer Month, “Leading a volunteer project like this has taught us so much more than just doing service hours.”