By SHEILA OJENDYK
GREENVILLE — The United Nations has decreed 2001 to be the International Year of Volunteers. With that fact in mind, members of St. Anthony’s Outreach and Evangelization Committee chose the theme of volunteerism for this year’s celebration honoring the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Jan. 21 ceremony opened with joyous, hand-clapping sounds of the children’s choir, the Junior Voices of Padua. DeLores Martinez served as mistress of ceremonies.
The annual celebration included an essay contest for children at St. Anthony’s School. This year’s topic was “Why Volunteering is Important to Me.” Ashlee Borkowski, second-place winner, emphasized that volunteering does not have to be something big to make a difference in somebody’s life. Rasan Bowens, first-place winner, said, “Volunteering was part of Jesus’ life every day .… If you do something for the Lord, the Lord will do for you.”
Martinez introduced the first guest speaker, Nicole Kelly, executive director of Hands On Greenville. Hands On Greenville is one of 37 similarly named projects worldwide that organizes and mobilizes volunteers for projects in the local community. Kelly gave up a lucrative job in marketing to found Hands On Greenville in 1994 and worked out of her apartment with no salary for the first year.
Kelly began volunteering in her 20s. She thought volunteering would be a good way to meet new people. What she never anticipated was the impact volunteering would have on her life.
Kelly did many kinds of volunteer work in New Jersey and New York but finally found her niche working with children. She spent several years working with Dominique, a 9-year-old boy in a Hackensack orphanage. Dominique was interested in becoming a chef, so Kelly frequently took him to restaurants for lunch. The two experienced discriminatory treatment on one of their outings when Dominique was 11 years old, and the boy’s quick thinking defused what could have been a racial incident. Sadly, Dominique has been lost to the system, and Kelly has no idea where he is now.
The incident at the restaurant opened Kelly’s eyes and turned her life around. She credits Dominique with giving her the courage to follow her convictions. Kelly said, “Volunteering changes the life of the person you are helping and your own life .… My life has been greatly enriched.”
Music was an integral part of the uplifting ceremony. Besides the Junior Voices of Padua, Tracy Pringle-Harper sang “Alabaster Vase.” Mary-Esther Gourdin played “Come By Me, Lord” (“Kumbaya”) on the piano, and Nick Sloan sang “Let There Be Peace On Earth.”
Rodney Tucker, an urban planner for the city of Greenville, was the second speaker. Tucker began his talk by quoting the story of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. He said, “Love transcends all boundaries.” He told the congregation, “You have a vested interest because you live here.”
Tucker urged people of all races to work together as a legacy to King. Everybody has a gift, Tucker said. “God does not make junk .… You know who your neighbor is, but are you going to act on it?” He urged people to work in their own part of town because improving communities improves the whole city. He said, “Take ownership of your community and city and move forward.”
Franciscan Father Paul Williams, pastor of St. Anthony’s, presented certificates of appreciation to Gourdin and Sloan for their musical contributions to the ceremony and cash prizes to Borkowski and Bowens for their two essays.
Father Williams gave plaques to Kelly and Tucker, saying “We will always remember you.” Before the closing prayer, he reminded the congregation, “God wants us to use our gifts, not for selfish ways, but for the betterment of his people.”