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April Is National Volunteer Month

Photography Provided

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month?

This is the time when all can give a hearty thanks to those who spend countless hours in their communities to help a variety of organizations. Volunteers are often referred to as the heart” or backbone” of these organizations – which is so very true. Without volunteers donating their time, their passion and often their money, many worthwhile programs, a majority which are nonprofit, might cease to exist.     

Here is the story behind National Volunteer Month.

Canada began celebrating National Volunteer Week in 1943 to recognize women working on the home front during World War II. Celebrations dropped after the war but eventually picked back up again in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

National Volunteer Week became prevalent in the United States in 1974, eventually expanding to National Volunteer Month. President Richard Nixon urged Americans to observe the week by finding volunteer opportunities. He called upon people to “recognize volunteers by observing the week with special ceremonies to honor those who have given countless hours for the betterment of our communities and the American way of life.”

In 2003 President George W. Bush formed the Presidents Council on Service and Civic Participation, to recognize the worthwhile contributions people of all ages were making through service. The council went on to create a volunteer opportunity database at volunteer.org, and established a program to recognize Americans with the Presidents Volunteer Service Award.

What exactly are the duties of a volunteer?

VolunteerYou’ll find them assisting at animal shelters such as the Kentucky Humane Society, where they feed and comfort stray animals. They dig into the dirt to plant bulbs, trees, shrubs and flowers at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens. They deliver nutritious food to homebound senior citizens through Meals on Wheels. They donate their time to the American Red Cross by being blood donor ambassadors or working on the Disaster Action Team (DAT), where they meet disaster-caused needs of individuals or households.

If you’ve never volunteered but have always wanted to, yet feel intimidated by working with a larger organization, there are always ways to help out on a smaller scale. Just look for places in your own neighborhood.

One place to find volunteer opportunities is at your childs school.   

That is how Veronica Berkenbosch began her volunteer career. She stepped up to help when her son joined the marching band at Eastern High School (EHS) in Middletown.

During the summer band camp I helped with meal preparation and serving food, as well as working water duty and with first aid,” she says. Ive also worked at the concession stand and I did stadium cleanup.”

Berkenbosch also served as the communications secretary with the bands board of directors. She worked with the bands uniform department, plus she helped with show props, fundraising, and chaperoning students to competitions. She was also the volunteer coordinator for the bands Eagle Classic band competition held each fall.

Volunteering with the band became a family affair, as her husband John also lent a helping hand.

He volunteered in first aid at the Eagle Classic and during the bands road trips,” she says. He also ran the Christmas tree lots for several years, which is one of the bands biggest fundraisers.”

The couple’s youngest child graduated in 2017 so their duties with the band tapered off, but she still helps in various capacities.

Ive loved my time as a volunteer with the EHS bands,” she says. I loved getting to know the kids, and being present for our children as well as their friends. Getting involved in activities that our children participate in is significant as well. It shows our kids that we care about what they are passionate about. I think volunteering is very important because it connects us with the community.”

Scouting programs can also use volunteers – especially volunteers like Kerry Morris. Shes been associated with the Girl Scouts program for an amazing 53 years.

I spent 11 years as a Girl Scout and 42 years as an adult volunteer,” Morris explains. My mother was my troop leader in the beginning. I had so much fun, I never left.”

Morris leads three girl groups – a Brownie troop, a Junior troop, and a troop for middle and high school girls. Their meetings take place at Woodland Church in Middletown. Part of her program involves offering a variety of experiences through meetings and field trips.

volunteerTo run an effective troop, you have to love the girls and what you are doing, be very organized and have good parental support,” she explains. I want my girls to know that they are important and that I am here to help them reach their full potential. By volunteering, I have made a lot of friends, had new experiences and had the privilege of impacting our future.”

Local churches are also good places to discover volunteer opportunities.

Polo Fields resident Kim Bagwell volunteers her time at Westport Road Baptist Church with their Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) program. Her career with MOPS really began 21 years ago when she and her family lived in Brunswick, Georgia, and she was the mother of young children.

I first attended MOPS as a parent participant in 2001, and the following year I signed up to be the care team coordinator,” Bagwell states. My job was to get volunteers within our group to do such things as take meals, diapers, and anything else to moms and their families.”

She held other positions along the way such as discussion group leader and table leader.

In 2019 Bagwell began volunteering with the local MOPS program as a child-care worker with the 2-year-olds group.

When COVID hit, I moved into a mentoring position,” she explains. We are there to participate in the meeting like the moms do, but we are also there just to talk with new moms, to show them hospitality, give encouragement, advice and emotional support. For the 2021-2022 year I still serve as a mentor for the mothers, plus I recently stepped into the role of coordinating child-care volunteers with my fellow mentors.”

Bagwell says MOPS holds a special place her heart.

It obviously had a big effect on me from day one, otherwise I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the roles I had or the ones I have now,” she says. To be able to lock arms with other mothers, then and now, to get through, enjoy and understand the season of life as an expectant mother to a mother of a child about to start school, is an incredible thing. Being able to pay that forward as a mentor is just as special if not more so. I feel blessed to have been introduced to MOPS all those years ago. It’s been one of the absolute best things I’ve ever been a part of.”

On a larger scale, Louisville Metro leaders do their part to give thanks to volunteers in our different communities.

The WLKY Spirit of Louisville Foundation holds the annual Bell Awards, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated the true spirit of Louisville through selfless volunteer efforts. They recognize 10 adult recipients, plus two individuals who receive the WLKY Bell Awards Youth Service Honor. In conjunction with Mayor Greg Fischer, the foundation presents the Mayors Spirit of Louisville Award, and along with Churchill Downs the foundation presents the John Asher Spirit Award.

The 2021 Bell Award honorees included George Addison, a lifelong advocate of educational, youth, social justice and civic issues; Elmer Lucille Allen, a founder of West Louisville Womens Collaborative (WLWC) as well as a volunteer with Western Library, Frazier History Museum, Louisville Central Community Center, Fund for the Arts, and Commission on Public Art; and Doug Pifer, founder of TKO Parkinsons, a nonprofit, free exercise program for those living with Parkinsons disease. After his own diagnosis, he became involved with Rock Steady Boxing (RSB), which has been proven to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s Disease and reduce its symptoms.

The call for nominations for the Bell Awards will begin in May with a deadline of June 30. People can visit the Bell Awards page at wlky.com for the online link starting at the end of April.

If youre seeking a way to become involved with volunteer opportunities in our area, there are a number of places that can use your help.

In St. Matthews there are organizations such as St. Matthews Area Ministries (stmam.com), Blessings in a Backpack (louisville.blessingsinabackpack.org) and the Alzheimers Association (alz.org).

In Middletown, volunteer opportunities include the Middletown chapter of Lions Club International (middletownlions.net) and Water With Blessings (waterwithblessings.org).

In Jeffersontown, youll find ways to help through Jeffersontown Area Ministries (louisvilleministries.org/projects-archive/jeffersontown-area-ministries).

If youd like to do an overall search for volunteer opportunities, sites such as Volunteer Match are a good place to start. Go to volunteermatch.org to find opportunities with organizations that work with children, animals, seniors and more.

Finally, gotolouisville.com is another great avenue for locating local volunteer work. Volunteers help with area festivals, at the Visitor Center, and with greeting conventioneers visiting our city.

If you know someone who is a volunteer or meet someone who spends their time volunteering, this is the month to show them your appreciation.

Make a difference – volunteer!

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