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Linda Wynne, a patient relations representative in the Department of Orthopaedics, had seven weeks of vacation coming to her this year. She spent three of them in Puerto Rico, but it wasn't the fun-filled trip you see in travel brochures. She was an American Red Cross volunteer sent to help in the wake of Hurricane Georges.
Linda saw an already impoverished area devastated by the killer storm. She put in long days in the barrios where shanties had been flattened and lives ruined. She and the other volunteers worked at their own risk in a high-crime area where they were warned that every street corner was a potential crime scene. Still, she says, she wouldn't trade the experience.
Those weeks in Puerto Rico followed other "vacation" days spent helping Ohio flood victims regain some semblance of normalcy in their lives. All told, Linda spent five weeks of vacation working with the Red Cross. She knows firsthand about the rewarding feeling of helping others.
So do many other members of the Carolina community, whose year-round volunteer efforts -- above and beyond full days at work and in the classroom -- epitomize the public service mission that is the cornerstone of Carolina.
Consider Jennifer Litzen at the Institute of Government, who volunteers with the Orange County Literacy Council. It's easy to forget that 17 percent of the people in our well-to-do county are functionally illiterate. But Jennifer doesn't forget. She does something about it through the family literacy program, helping parents understand the importance of reading to their children. Jennifer is currently organizing a book club in a Hillsborough housing project.
Volunteerism is second nature to some campus units. Housing and residential education staff annually participate in a gift-wrapping project at Northgate Mall, coordinated by associate director Al Calarco; proceeds benefit Durham AIDS efforts. Calarco and Larry Hicks, another associate director, also use holiday parties to help collect gifts for hospitalized children. And in Housing Support, maintenance mechanic George McMiller bought and cooked Thanksgiving dinner for two families in his church.
The spirit of giving is especially keen during the holidays as many units "adopt" a family. Jane Tornow organizes the entire Purchasing Department to collect Thanksgiving and Christmas food for needy families. As co-worker Janet Tice points out, "Her volunteer work not only benefits the families, it helps all of us who participate to feel good about volunteering as well."
The impact of such generosity is felt far and wide. Wanda Wallace in political science and fellow church members spent Labor Day weekend at Camp New Hope with a group of mentally handicapped adults. That was in addition to work with her church to take senior citizens on road trips -- last year to Niagara Falls. Her co-worker Carol Nichols helps make quilts for a South Dakota orphanage with the Eager Hands quilting club. Davis Library's Betty Meehan-Black is an outstanding advocate for people with learning disabilities, while Barbara Grant Schliebe, a research instructor in the School of Medicine, just began her 16th year as a Pines of Carolina Girl Scout leader. The list goes on.
Students are making a difference, too. In the a.p.p.l.e.s. program, they practice hands-on community service as part of the academic curriculum. Greek organizations last spring performed more than 16,000 hours of service and raised nearly $66,500 for charities. Campus Y programs, such as Big Buddies, are changing the lives of our local youth, as is the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center's Communiversity Program, which this fall helped 74 children in Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Chatham County schools.
What motivates these volunteers? Linda Wynne, the Red Cross volunteer, says it's that special feeling she experiences and the perspective she gets in her own life. "You learn to count your blessings, and you learn what's really important in life," she says.
In 1999, I hope each of you will resolve to make time to help others. Opportunities abound: The 1999 Special Olympics World Games needs some 35,000 volunteers, while University groups are looking for volunteers and money to help build a Habitat for Humanity house next fall as part of Celebration 2000. There's no shortage of good causes. Find the one that's right for you, make a difference, and experience that special feeling.
(Editor's note: For information on the Special Olympics, call toll free 1-888-767-1999 or visit the web site at http://www.99games.com Call Aaron Nelson at 2-7772 for details about Celebration 2000.)
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