by Ally Oelerich
Summer has arrived, which for some means spending your weekend at the pool, taking a walk at Freedom Park, catching up with friends, enjoying a BBQ with the kids, or simply relaxing and savoring the few days off from work. For others, it means spending a few hours volunteering and giving back to the community to help make someone’s day.
Hands on Charlotte is a non-profit volunteer organization that promotes volunteerism and direct community service to meet Charlotte’s most critical needs. They offer a variety of meaningful volunteer projects that benefit the citizens of Charlotte. Projects include Bingo, School Tutoring, Festivals, The BIG Project School Beautification, and my two favorites – Pet Visits at Summit Place and Special Rollers.
"When you focus on serving, there is no fear in you." ~ Tony Robbins
I have always been a huge advocate for Special Olympics and volunteering with people who have developmental disabilities. I can still remember many memories dating back to high school, so I was excited to learn about HOC’s Special Rollers project, which is a bowling league for adults and teens with developmental disabilities. Some athletes also have physical disabilities. I was assigned to two lanes with eight eager bowlers and was responsible for helping enter names into the computer, collecting participation fees from bowlers, reading scores, but most importantly maintaining a fun, supportive, and encouraging environment for them. They say it’s the little things in life that mean the most, and I have to agree with that, as a simple high five or “good job!” made their day. I even found enjoyment out of them repeatedly telling me their final score to rub it in my face that they beat me! I will definitely improve my bowling game before I volunteer again! Two hours in the morning on a Saturday was a great way to start to the day, and it makes you feel good knowing in a short amount of time you made such an impact.
Another amazing project is Pet Visits at Summit Place, which is an Assisted Living and Alzheimer’s Residence in SouthPark. Volunteers bring their pets to visit with the residents of the facility. Visiting with animals can help people feel less lonely and makes it easier for two strangers to talk. I met a lot of amazing people at Summit Place but one 84 year-old man in particular named Frank was a pleasure to speak with. In the two hours we spoke, I learned that he was an alum at Southern Methodist University (Go Mustangs!), a former marine, he has two daughters and one son, was a former engineer and wrote a book called “6 Months and 1 Day” that was a compilation of his time at sea or what he called “sea stories.” What began as a simple “how’s your day going so far, would you like to say hi to my dog?” quickly led into a long conversation getting to know each other. I walked away from that project so happy to have met John and also sad at the same time as talking to him made me miss my Grandpa who had a similar background to him. I went into that project hoping to have a fun day with my dog and the residents, and I ended up learning more about a stranger and what his journey in life has been.
Whether you like beautifying a school by planting flowers and raking leaves, helping senior citizens during Bingo or decorating crowns at a New Year’s Eve event, there are so many wonderful volunteer opportunities through Hands on Charlotte. What is your most memorable volunteer moment?