Written and shared by Carolyn Murphy Thompson, Evergreen Donor
As a current board member of Volunteers of America, the Cherish the Children of God Breakfast is a highlight for me each year.
In just one hour the goodness of people and the hope of God cements the craggy shards of a broken community into a spellbinding mosaic. I am genuinely moved to speak here today. Each person has his or her “why” for Volunteers of America. As a former student who spent many an hour memorizing concepts with pneumonic devices, my Volunteers of America why is summarized with the following acronym: LOVE.
“L” is for longevity. Much like a sapling’s journey to an oak, Volunteers of America’s roots in Northwest Louisiana started humbly in 1935 but have developed mightily to include over forty programs. With its after-school programming, veterans services, mental health counseling, and affordable housing, Volunteers of America follows in the footsteps of a ministry started over two thousand years ago halfway around the world. It continues right here in this room.
“O” is for omnipresence. Crawling out of the din of these past two years where words like “isolate”, “distance”, and “closed” were so loud it was deafening, Volunteers of America’s continuity of care was the beating heart in our community.
Staff members prioritized the well-being of clients as we saw in last year’s Breakfast Video. It introduced us to Tommy and his caregiver, LaShonda, who quarantined from her family during the pandemic to continue services for Tommy. This morning, they were together once again leading us in the prayer and pledge.
I distinctly remember staff members describing the efforts to knock on doors to find children who were in need of services when schools closed. They were a literal lighthouse – shining into the darkness of the storm.
“V” is for volunteerism. Each skeleton’s mobility is dependent on a spine. For Volunteers of America, the people in this audience today are the delicate pieces of vertebrae, which collectively support this special work.
In 2014, I returned to Shreveport after a seven-year absence. Having just survived the bar exam, I was as carved out as a jack o’ lantern on the last day of October. While awaiting my results, I yearned for an opportunity to focus on something other than myself. I was placed at the Highland LightHouse in the third grade classroom. Twice a week, I helped Julianna, Juan, Jordan, Rashad and other students draw bundles, count by tens, and clap syllables. At the end of the afternoon, all grades would gather in the gym for basketball.
One kindergartner, DeAsia Henderson, stood out from the rest of the children running up and down the court. Her tiny body was outsized by her smile and fabulous white cowboy boots clacking on the gym floor. As the fall term came to a close, DeAsia walked through the Lighthouse doors for the last time. Pedaling her new bicycle, a Christmas Gift from a generous donor, she was struck and killed by a car while crossing the street. Though her light was extinguished on this Earth, my faith tells me because of Volunteers of America, DeAsia knew love – the love of volunteers, the love of her teachers, the love of God.
Volunteers of America creates a ripple effect in the trajectory of one’s volunteer journey. Though my time at the Highland LightHouse concluded in 2015, I have since enjoyed opportunities to participate in the Holiday Helpers Program with members of my running group and to volunteer with the MAGIC program at the Travis Street LightHouse through the Junior League of Shreveport-Bossier. Time may soldier us forward, but the faces and the names of those we are called to serve remain imprinted.
“E” is for equity, the soul of the Volunteers of America. Every person is deserving of love. Volunteers of America’s mission follows the footsteps of our Creator who commanded us to love one another and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Today’s video showed us how a village can rally to help two people walk into their fairytale.
Whether your eyes have seen a battlefield, the grip of addiction or mental illness, the loss of a life mate, Volunteers of America has a place for all and continues to be a tie that binds. The protagonist of a book I recently completed summarized this idea so pointedly, “we are all the same,” she said, “just in different ways”.
As you leave here today, lifted by these messages of hope, perseverance, and how our desire for love in all forms unites us, I encourage you to live the mission of the Volunteers of America -start small, dream big, and do great.