I was lucky this past week to encounter the best of humanity just as the 2024 presidential campaign is gaining steam. Two events reminded me of the many good people living among us, no matter what we may see and hear over the next year and a half.
On Sunday, I participated in the North Carolina Peace Corps Association’s annual Peace Prize ceremony, which this year honored a local nonprofit that uses dance to assist disabled veterans and others. The photo shows ComMotion’s Andre Avila and Robin McCall receiving the award from NCPCA Vice President Jennifer Chow.
On Monday, I participated in an event organized by the Triangle Nonprofit & Volunteer Leadership Center to honor outstanding local volunteers — people such as Bruce Ballentine, who has been active with Habitat for Humanity and raised more than $7 million to build new homes for families.
Another honoree, Lalit Mahadeshwar, organized volunteer teams with the Hindu Society of North Carolina to provide food packs to needy families during the pandemic. Dr. Shep McKenzie III provides free gynecological exams for Urban Ministries and also tends its vegetable gardens. Myra Blackwell helps lead a baseball league for underserved youth.
Others honored at the event deliver meals to the elderly, provide music for dementia patients, comfort the parents of hospitalized pediatric patients, care for shelter animals and much more. All of their stories made me feel better about people. The photo shows me introducing some of those in the “senior” category.
I served as a judge for the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service and also presented the 2023 “Community Partner of the Year” award to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Duke University.
Sarah Cline, the program manager for the AmeriCorps Senior Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), joined me in honoring OLLI, which recently teamed up with RSVP and the Durham Center for Senior Life to expand programming for older volunteers. I chair the local RSVP advisory council and have been working with Sarah to encourage more local residents to get involved, as we did in a recent radio interview.
I spend much of my own time volunteering — with RSVP, OLLI, the West End Community Foundation and various Peace Corps and Moldova activities. This past week reminded me how important this work is — for my own emotional well-being most of all.
If you’re an older Durham resident who wants to volunteer, I invite you to send Sarah a message. She’s ready to meet with you and find a great match. If you live elsewhere, you can contact your local RSVP office or take advantage of other volunteer resources.
The upcoming campaign seems likely to challenge our emotional equilibrium, regardless of our personal politics. I have my own strong views but also want to resist cynicism and despair. Volunteering isn’t a perfect vaccine but it does help us feel better about our fellow Americans — and ourselves — while addressing the urgent needs of our communities.