One of my favorite quotes, coined by John Bunyan, says, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Although I may have found those words on an inspirational website for teenage girls years ago, and they were spoken hundreds more years ago, I see them lived out every day through the service of VISTE volunteers. Those who give so selflessly of their time and talents to improve the lives of Polk County’s elderly, most of which really will never be able to repay them, deserve to be recognized for the things they do. That is why I was honored to be a part of this year’s Annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, a banquet held in honor of VISTE volunteers and to recognize those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
They may not even realize it, but our volunteers are the backbone of VISTE and the community itself. That’s why this year’s theme was “Volunteers Shape Our Community.” We want to remind our volunteers why their efforts are so valuable, that they are making a difference in numerous clients’ lives, and that they are greatly appreciated. One activity that was unique to this year’s luncheon was the signing of a beautiful piece of pottery with thumbprints. To complement the theme, a potter created a large round bowl which attendees of the luncheon signed by dipping their finger in pottery paint and leaving their mark on the bowl. The piece of pottery represented our community, and our volunteers are the potters, whose hard work and talent make our community as beautiful as the bowl itself.
My favorite part of the luncheon (obviously besides the food) was the presentation of the awards to exceptional VISTE volunteers. Although we wish we could give an award to every single one of our volunteers, there are three who have stood out in the crowd and have shared kindness and love through their service in a way that was impossible to ignore. This year’s winner of the Jeffery Perkins Memorial Award, which recognizes an individual or group for striving to make a difference in their community, was the Lakeland Montessori School. As I watched the group of young children walk up to the stage, attempting to hide their blushes behind huge smiles, it warmed my heart that children as young as themselves are so eager to make a difference in their community and we can recognize them for their hard work and selflessness.
The Elfried Pennekamp Memorial Award for Extraordinary Service is given annually to a group or individual who has greatly served VISTE clients throughout the years. There couldn’t have been a more deserving recipient than Betty Sebright, who has been delivering birthday cakes and making special birthday bags for clients for many years. She finds her task to be enjoyable, and even admitted she finds sentimental meaning in it based upon her mother’s passing at 90 years old. She loves giving special attention to clients 90 years of age or older because she admires them for living life as long as they have. Her dedication and care for her clients is unwavering, and she more than earned that recognition.
For the volunteer whose dedication and commitment rises above all expectations, the Dr. Sam Clark Memorial Volunteer of the Year award is given. Robert Smith was the recipient of this award, and although I have not personally gotten to know him, I had the opportunity to witness just how many people here at VISTE love and appreciate Robert. While filming other volunteers and VISTE staff saying why they believed Robert deserved this award, words such as kind, dedicated, funny, and of course, loud were all used to describe this man. He always comes into work with a smile on his face and is ready to help anyone with anything they may need. Robert very humbly accepted his award as he received a standing ovation. Just based from the reaction of the crowd alone, I knew Robert was a very valuable member of the VISTE team and he was very deserving of becoming our new Volunteer of the Year.
I am grateful I get to be a part of VISTE and witness the difference this organization makes in the lives of so many elderly people every day. Without volunteers, nothing that VISTE does could be possible, and it brightened my day to know that those volunteers were honored and reminded of just how important they are.