On April 28th, MAG Coordinator, Sammy Moon, gave the keynote address at the President’s Volunteer Service Awards dinner which was hosted by Volunteer Northwest Mississippi, an organization affiliated with the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. The event recognized fifteen outstanding volunteers from the region, highlighting their commitment to making a difference for children, families, organizations and communities.
Sammy’s remarks are included below.
Thank you so much for such a kind introduction. I am so honored that you invited me to make some remarks at this incredible event. It is not often that I get to share the room with such a distinguished group of people – and, I think it important to note that you are not just a distinguished group of people, but you are a wonderful, caring and giving group of people! So, how about that – I’m not even through my opening remarks and I’ve already labeled you as distinguished, wonderful, caring and giving! Not bad labels to have — and so well deserved.
But, let’s be honest in that anybody could stand up here and shower accolades on all the good folks here tonight – so, rather than simply laying out the accolades, let me spend just a little bit of time (and, I promise it will only be a little bit of time because I know there’s much more to come after me) talking with you about why I think it’s important to use these labels when speaking of folks like you. Let me try for just a few minutes to go beyond the words and talk about what I believe to be the things that set you apart from others – in other words, let me talk a little bit about why you deserve those labels.
First of all, as a volunteer in your community you are part of a worldwide force for change. I know most of you probably just think about what you’re doing locally to help folks and make a difference, but when you stop and think about it, you’re part of millions of people across the globe that have committed time and treasure to helping children, families, organizations and communities become stronger. So, while you focus on your local volunteer activities, don’t lose sight of the fact that you really are part of a global network that is working to make a difference. You have kindred spirits in India, Africa, Europe, South America – all over the world. Take comfort in the fact that as disjointed and dysfunctional as the world can seem nowadays, there are good folks everywhere who are working locally to make things better. Harnessing and leveraging all the work of volunteers worldwide has the potential to positively influence some of the dysfunction that we feel. So, I applaud you for being part of a worldwide movement!
Secondly, it is important to recognize and celebrate the work you are doing locally, which is what this event tonight is all about. Each of you has come here tonight because you are involved in doing something about an issue that is important to you in your local community. You are focused on making things better in your community and you are willing to give of yourself to make it happen. This commitment shows that not only do you believe that things can indeed be better, but that you believe it takes all of us working together to make it better. The old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” is not foreign to your way of thinking – in fact, I’m willing to bet it’s fundamental to the way you think and, more importantly, to the way you act. You understand what is meant when someone talks about the “common good” and the fact that we all have a responsibility for looking out for others. I salute you for that! And, I remind you that these awards that are being given out this evening are part of a national volunteer recognition effort. So, while your work is local, your recognition is national — congratulations!
My guess is that most of you are quite modest when it comes to public recognition for good works – indeed, that typically is one of the characteristics of volunteers. You tend to want to do what you do because you believe in making a difference and helping others, not because you want attention or recognition. But, having spent many years working with the Annie E Casey Foundation in its efforts to make communities across the country better places for children and families, I know that it is the untiring efforts of people like you that remind us about what’s important – you are the true champions for change. One of the lessons learned from my Casey work is that in order for meaningful change to occur, there has to be a core, committed group of people who are willing to work tirelessly to try to make things better. We called that core group of committed people our community champions – when I look at the work you all have done, I see community champions at work.
I often ask what it is that motivates folks like you to do what you do — if it’s not recognition and/or money driven, then what keeps you going. Well, as it turns out there is research that tells us there may be several reasons that people volunteer – there may be multiple benefits derived from volunteering.
See if any of these sound familiar to you — some of these you may have thought about, but some may be new to you — in any case, think about these as the benefits you derived from volunteering – after all, you are giving a LOT, so you should be getting something back:
- Volunteering is good for you – studies have shown that volunteering provides mental and physical rewards. It reduces stress and makes you healthier! So, if you’re feeling good, part of that may come from the fact that you’re volunteering and giving to others. If you’re not feeling so good, well just think how bad you’d feel were you not volunteering – it could be worse! If you’re not feeling good, maybe you need to do more volunteer work!
- Volunteering saves precious resources – since volunteering means that you’re providing a community service without cost, your efforts are freeing up resources that can then be used on other community efforts. Let me quickly state that simply because volunteer time is free does NOT imply that it doesn’t have value. What you and others do as volunteers has GREAT value to the community!
- Volunteering brings diverse people together – typically volunteers come from various backgrounds and experiences. But, as they work together there tends to develop a sense of camaraderie and mutual commitment to achieving a common goal. In other words, volunteering not only produces impact, but it enriches your life because you meet, interact and build relationships with others who are interested in the same issue you are interested in. My guess is that each of you has friendships that have grown out of your volunteer experiences.
- Volunteers learn a lot – Each volunteer experience brings the opportunity to not only meet new people, but to learn new things. None of us have all the answers, so as we volunteer we are always learning the who’s, what’s, how’s and why’s related to the issue we’re concerned about. It keeps us stimulated and vibrant and involved.
- Volunteers are role models for others – you provide a great example of how “people make a difference.” Others see and hear about what you’re doing and they want to be a part of it as well. My guess is that all of you have recruited someone else to join you on some volunteer effort – they did so because YOU showed them how to do it and helped them understand the importance of getting involved.
- And, finally, I go back to where we started — volunteering does indeed make a difference. Every person counts and every volunteer effort contributes to the “common good” that makes a community vibrant.
When I hear the Community Foundation’s mission statement: Connecting people who care with causes that matter, I know we probably immediately think about connecting people with money to give with causes that need money. And, that is an incredibly important part of the work that gets done by a community foundation. But, on occasions like this one tonight I am reminded that connecting people who care with causes that matter is so much more than just getting monetary resources in and out of the door — it is also about connecting volunteers that care about the community with issues and organizations that are making a difference. So, I am delighted that tonight we celebrate not the money that we so often focus on, but rather the people that give their precious time to others. I am so honored that you allowed me to spend a bit of time with you this evening.
Finally, in closing, as I read the bios of tonight’s honorees that will be shared in just a few moments, the following descriptors jumped out at me—I’m saying them now and you’ll hear them again in a moment because they truly do capture what volunteering is about and why it is so important:
- Jewel in the crown
- One of a kind
- Loving of community
- Jack of all trades
- Willing soul
- Can do attitude
- Happy to lend a hand with a smile
- Heart for service
- Servant leader
I love these words, I love these phrases – but, most of all I love being in the room with a group of people for whom these words and phrases are used as descriptors. Thank you again for all you do. Keep up the good work.