Brenda Cannon Henley: The immense value of volunteers

I clearly remember interviewing Paula O’Neal the first time for an article on Some Other Place in Beaumont when I arrived in Texas. Paula told me how the name came to be and I have always remembered that story. She said when people who needed help in the area applied to various agencies, they would be told that the particular help they needed was not available for them through that means. Often, the statements would end with, “You’ll have to go to ‘some other place,” so Paula and others set out to create that ‘other place’ that could provide food, shelter, clothing, help with utilities, and so many other things residents of our area have depended upon for so many years. In my opinion, Some Other Place, and its highly prized staff of faithful volunteers, are the epitome of what giving back to the community is all about. I also interviewed C.W. Conn, founder of Conn’s, as he served meals to the homeless one Thanksgiving Day at Some Other Place. This man, with all of his wealth and ability, believed that every human being ought to be willing to invest in his fellow man and woman, and he did so in person, not by writing a check to the needy. That made a deep impression on my heart and life. He told me it was a highlight of his year and his daughters verified this fact.

What is a volunteer? Most definitions state that it is a person who offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking willingly and without pay. In other words, they do not expect to be reimbursed or repaid for their investment and effort.

Paula shared something else with me during that first of many interviews. She said ever so sincerely, “Brenda, I can tell you that you can look this world over and you will never find a community or an area, or a people, more generous and kind to others in their giving than you will right here in Southeast Texas.” Paula added, “I’ve been doing this a long, long time, and when we have a need that has to be met for us to continue our work or expand into another area, I simply ask. I tell the people what the need is, and pray and work, and it is usually met in a timely manner.”

I sat with a young executive director of an organization that deals with needy children in our court system. She had inherited quite a bugaboo of problems, money issues, and a dire need for volunteers. She was discouraged and Satan was working on her good intentions and exciting plans. “Why won’t people help us?” she cried. “I have prayed about the matter, asked good people, showed them the need, and begged them to get involved,” she stressed. “I think it is because we cannot pay for their services. It seems that most people won’t even look at a project without knowing that they will be paid.”

This particular group of good people works within the court system to help children who would not otherwise have representation. A well-trained volunteer is assigned by a judge to each child and they get to know the family, speak up for the child’s best interest, and made a recommendation to the court. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes commitment. But, oh, the rewards that come when a young boy or girl is helped to get on the right track for life. These volunteers help to build life bridges that will carry that child to adulthood and becoming a contributing member of society.

Consider today, please, the extreme importance of being willing to volunteer even a few hours a month, or a few dollars from your budget to help those less fortunate than you.

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” – Forest E. Witcraft