On Tuesday, August 2, the Veterans Reference Center and United for HOPE hosted a banquet to recognize Johnson County and Paintsville volunteers with the President’s Volunteer Service Award for their efforts throughout the past year.
Johnson County Executive Judge Mark McKenzie joined the event as a guest speaker and spoke about the importance of volunteerism.
“I’m truly honored to be here, to be able to be with friends and people who love this community as much as I do. People who care about this community…and want it to be the best it can be,” McKenzie said. “That’s what this night is about, it’s about recognizing the volunteers.”
McKenzie went on to say that in today’s always-connected world, especially when it comes to how technology keeps us engaged in our lives around the clock, volunteering can seem like a daunting task.
“I would say we’ve taken multitasking to a whole new level in our lives…so when you think about how busy our lives are and you think about volunteering, that’s giving of your time and energy. to a cause with no expectation of monetary reward,” McKenzie said. “It can seem like a daunting task to us…to say, ‘I’m going to spend my time working to help a cause without (that expectation)'”
Volunteering benefits everyone involved, McKenzie said, especially when it comes to youth involved with United for HOPE, who McKenzie says would see a noticeable increase in their ability to seek greater opportunities when they join. college or in a career with such volunteer efforts listed on their resumes. These efforts would be especially important for young people in our region, McKenzie said, as statistics show that volunteerism is declining around the world.
“When you do a search online and look at volunteering…I think you’ll see what I see, and that is that we tend to decrease the amount of time we spend volunteering over the past 10 to 12 years,” McKenzie said. “So what we’re saying is that the efforts of the group that’s going to be recognized tonight, the young people, are the people who are trying to work to change this trend. They recognize the value of volunteering early on and reserve that time in their lives, and by all indications, from the statistics, the 16 to 25 year old group is showing the greatest increase in volunteering, and that tells me that they are having a positive impact on our society and our lives, and this is our future. We want to see them care. We want to see them take care of themselves young and throughout their lives.
Contrary to these global and national trends, McKenzie suggested that the Eastern Kentucky region is home to a culture of volunteerism that runs counter to these trends.
“While the statistics you see online are going to be for the United States or the world, I’m going to suggest to you that our region is very different. I think we have a higher level of volunteerism in our communities than most know. We have a culture and we have to embrace that culture,” McKenzie said. “I think our numbers are going to be even higher than what you see in the country. of us this evening, around their table, told a story or heard the story of someone who has stepped up since (the floods) on Wednesday evening, to do something to help people in our area. I would say that conversation has gone around all the tables here tonight.
“That’s what I mean, we don’t fit that statistical category of declining volunteerism, I think we’ve actually set the standard for that,” McKenzie continued. “Because we care and we step in and help, and do what needs to be done.”
To drive home the point, particularly when it comes to natural disasters and local responses, McKenzie said he hopes everyone in the room will look to our fire departments as examples of exemplary volunteerism.
“Even outside of the natural disasters we’ve had over the past three years, I want everyone to recognize that our fire support, in this county, is completely volunteer,” McKenzie said. “These are all men and women volunteering their time for our safety…we have a local service that has been called into service for the past few days, to go and assist with search and rescue in our neighboring counties.”
McKenzie concluded his speech with a call for unity, which he said was one of the key aspects of this volunteer work and also a benefit of it.
“When we have this cause that we seek to serve, we put those differences aside and come together for the greater good, to move people from one to the other and help them persevere,” said McKenzie. “We have a great community because we respond to the needs of our citizens as they arise and put aside any differences we might have for the greater good.”
Moving on from McKenzie’s speech, United for HOPE leaders Mark and Stephanie Rodriguez kicked off the awards with the bronze-level President’s Volunteer Service Award, given to young adults ages 16-25 for completing 100-174 hours of volunteer service in a given year and adolescents, ages 11 to 15, for completing 50 to 74 hours of service in the same time frame.
Among these recipients were:
Lauren Osborne and Jacob Rubado, JCHS students, Vickie Daniels and Shawn Gibbs, Veterans Referral Center volunteers, and Cheryl Butcher, Jerry Daniels, Tina Cantrell and Lisa Trusty-Roberts, Trail Town volunteers.
Several awards were also given to silver-level recipients, who must have accumulated 75-99 hours for teens (11-15 years old), 175-249 hours for young adults (16-25 years old), and 250-499 hours for adults (26 years or older).
Those who received these awards are:
Trail Town Veteran and Volunteer Orientation Center volunteer Sherrie Lemaster Joel Ward, Heaven Eldred, Brian Brown and Sandra Barto.
Final prizes were awarded to those who reached the gold level, which requires 100 hours or more for teens, 250 hours or more for young adults, and 500 hours or more for adults.
Gold recipients included:
Johnson County Sheriff’s Office volunteer Zoey Saylor, Veterans Orientation Center volunteers Jerrika Daniels, Kaylee Gibbs, Levid Rodriguez, Kaylee Jarrell, Pamela Brown, Rebecca Clay, Victoria Childers, Paintsville Tourism volunteer Linda Duncan and Trail Town volunteers Catherine Castle, Savannah Ward, Kelly Conley, Brandon Davenport, Dustin Music, Randy Adams, AJ Risner and Lara Pack and Van Lear Coal Miners’ Museum and Historical Society volunteer Tina Webb.
Certificates of appreciation were presented to Dan Heaberlin, Chasity Butcher and Candy Bates, while Bates also received a plaque of appreciation for Paintsville Lowe’s for their 100 Hometowns project, which helped totally remodel the reference center veterans. A presidential coin was presented to Waylon Whitson for his work with the Veterans Referral Center.
United for HOPE leader Mark Rodriguez said he hoped next year there would be even more volunteer work in the community and the group hoped to see recipients of the President’s Lifetime Volunteer Service Award , which requires its recipient to have completed 4,000 hours or more of volunteer service. Rodriguez added that the goal of the event was to recognize those in the community who are routinely overlooked and to help encourage greater volunteerism in our area.