Beth Alston: Volunteerism has many rewards

Published 1:30 pm Monday, May 1, 2017

If anything, the people in Americus and Sumter County believe in volunteering. From the church ladies who come together to prepare and take food to the homes of those who lose loved ones, to the soccer moms who carpool the team members, to those who dedicate their time and open their hearts to the children of the Boys & Girls Club, the local people are servants to each other.
This is National Volunteer Week, and I’m here to testify about my experiences with volunteering. When I first decided to make Americus my home back in 1977, my very first job after college was as news directors at a local radio station. I met many interesting people and became acquainted with the local leadership, the movers and shakers. While I learned to navigate comfortably in these circles, both professionally and personally, I often felt like an outsider because I was not born and bred here; I felt like an interloper at times.
I remember talking with my friend’s mother, the late Sister Sheffield, about this dilemma, and she gave me some sage advice that I’ve never forgotten. She told me the if I really wanted to feel a part of the community, I needed to get involved by volunteering. Sister herself was involved in every niche of the community through her life, from the Junior Service League to First United Methodist Church to working as a Pink Lady at Sumter Regional Hospital. At her funeral service, the minister said that Sister Sheffield was HIS pastor. She embodied selfless service.
Sister was right. I became involved with Sumter Players, a smart decision because I made a treasure trove of friends, many who remain friends decades later. I joined the Sumter Historic Trust. I became involved with a committee headed up by the late Coy Lou Ryan that offered mentoring to youngsters selected by DFACS. Coy had a servant’s heart as well.
As I matured and started working for this newspaper, my circle widened and there was never a dearth of needs in the community. In the wake of the flood of 1994, the tornado of 2007, and the murders of two young police officers in 2016, the volunteer spirit in our town grew exponentially. Not only did neighbor help neighbor, but people from all over the country wanted to know how they could help us in our struggles.
In my work as a community journalist, I come into contact every day with organizations with which there are countless volunteer opportunities. There’s the Fuller Center for Housing, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, several nursing homes and personal care facilities, the Boys & Girls Clubs, and a wealth of other possibilities. I’m a proud Kiwanian and have also enjoyed mentoring teenagers in recent years through the Sumter County Schools. The needs are great in our community, and all it takes is someone willing to step up and give of themselves for others. The rewards are beyond measure. It  makes you feel good, and according to what we learn as Christians, it’s a good mark on the Lord’s slate.
Just look at the Harvest of Hope Food Pantry. What began as an idea of two people has grown to a network of volunteers and churches that now provides much needed food to hundreds of people every month. The recipients, through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times and just need a helping hand until they can get back on their feet. Some even return to Harvest of Hope, after they no longer need the help, to donate food for others in need. What goes around comes around. Good will begets good will.
Joni Woolf, a sweet friend and colleague, once offered to sit at my brother’s bedside in his last days because I was juggling some big projects. She also offered to cook soup for him. She said, “If we can’t serve, we aren’t really living.” That really resonated with me.
Len Hicks, another local volunteer with the American Red Cross, Relay for Life, the Americus Kiwanis Club, and others organizations, shared with me that it seems to be that it’s always the same group of people who never fail to step up and get the job done. That shouldn’t be the case, not with the wealth of able-bodied people in this community ranging from the young to the retired. There is a place for everyone to serve others.
Don’t say you don’t have time. Instead of sitting on your couch and watching hours of mindless TV, you could be helping the young women at the Methodist Children’s Home, or reading to a kindergarten class at a local school, or visiting someone at Lillian Carter Health & Rehab who has no family. Think about it. It might take just a short piece of your time, but it could make all the difference in the world to someone who’s life you touch.

Beth Alston is editor and publisher of the Americus Times-Recorder. Contact her at or 229-924-2715, ext. 1004.