Volunteers get the spotlight at United Way banquet

By Clay Wilson

Donna Johnson said she doesn't volunteer with the Henry County Special Olympics program in hopes of getting a fancy meal and a certificate.

Nevertheless, Johnson – and more than 30 of her fellow Henry Countians – were treated to both at the third annual United Way Henry Volunteer Recognition on Thursday.

The Eagle's Landing Country Club clubhouse provided the backdrop for the ceremony, in which the local United Way program recognized 34 volunteers from area non-profit organizations.

"The one common denominator (between the volunteers) is that everyone loves his neighbor as himself," said Henry County State Court Judge Ben Studdard. Along with Henry Medical Center CEO Sam Ahern, Studdard was one of the awards presenters.

Kay Pippin, executive director of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, emceed the event. But she, Ahern and Studdard agreed that it was the volunteers who should be in the spotlight.

Studdard, who noted that as a judge he is addressed as "Your Honor," said, "The people who are sitting here are the ones who deserve to be honored, because you didn't ask to be honored."

According to Lynda Smith, area director of the United Way for Butts, Henry and Clayton counties, honoring the area's dedicated volunteers is just what the banquet was meant to do.

"From the United Way's perspective, it's our opportunity to say thanks publicly to all of these folks who don't ask for any recognition and give selflessly all year long," she said.

The United Way of Metro Atlanta, of which the local United Way is an affiliate, serves as an umbrella organization to raise funds and distribute them to local non-profit agencies.

But "even more important is our ability to work with everyone," said Smith. She said the United Way also strives to serve as a clearinghouse to bring all of an area's human services agencies to the table.

Consequently, for the third year in a row the organization invited all the county's non-profit agencies – whether they receive United Way funding or not – to select up to two volunteers for recognition.

As each of the 34 volunteers' name was called, Ahern or Studdard read a synopsis of the volunteer's activities submitted by the selecting agency.

For instance, John Chappell has been volunteering at Helping in His Name Ministries Food Pantry for 12 years. Along with his wife, Helen, Chappell picks up food for the pantry every Friday.

A former member of the pantry's board of directors, Chappell "can always be called upon for assistance in other areas," Ahern read. "He is truly a great blessing to (the pantry) and unto the Lord."

But after the banquet, Chappell indicated that he is the one who feels blessed by the opportunity to volunteer.

"It's one of the most satisfying things I've ever done," he said.

Like Chappell, Dottie Johnson said she appreciated the ceremony and the award. But she also said awards aren't her motivation for volunteering.

Selected for recognition by Henry County Parks and Recreation for her work with the department's Therapeutic Programs, Johnson serves as president of the Special Olympics Board.

She estimated that she spends about 20 hours a month on Special Olympics projects and activities. Often she is joined by her husband, Larry, and together the two are known as the "Grill Masters" for providing the food at SO parties.

The Johnsons' son, Jeff, is a Special Olympian himself, so "I have a very personal reason to be involved," Dottie said.

" – I don't do this for a fancy meal," she asserted when asked how she felt about winning the award. "I do it because I want to and I enjoy it."