Saying 'Thanks'

Volunteers recognized during National Volunteer Week

By Suzy Smith
Blount Today

When Dave Bennett was given a second chance at life, he decided he was going re-examine his focus and his priorities.

"Life is about seeing what’s around you," Bennett said. Last November, at 38-years-old, Bennett’s doctor discovered he had a faulty aortic valve which required open heart surgery. The surgery was a success and a short six weeks later Bennett
resumed his duties as the assistant county mayor and finance director.

Bennett, who is also the campaign chairperson for United Way of Blount County, is just one of the volunteers who will be recognized during National Volunteer Week.

United Way of Blount County kicked off the week with a celebratory brunch on Monday where County Mayor Jerry Cunningham issued a proclamation recognizing National Volunteer Week and honored volunteers of the organization who make a positive impact on the community.

"We couldn’t operate and accomplish the things we do in the community without the help of volunteers," said Sandra Davis, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Blount County.

Some of the goals that United Way of Blount County are out to accomplish are helping to promote self-sufficiency, improving people’s health, helping children succeed, strengthening and supporting families and protecting the community well being, according to Tony Thompson, chair-elect of United Way of Blount County. Thompson, regional president of First Tennessee Bank, has been involved with United Way in Blount County for more than 25 years.

"There are a lot of needs that would go unmet if United Way didn’t exist," Thompson said. He said he also encourages volunteerism at First Tennessee Bank. According to Thompson, 75 employees of First Tennessee Bank volunteered for 68 organizations providing 2,454 hours of service.

Calculating the economic impact that volunteers make on the community is possible thanks to the national volunteer network, Points of Light Foundation. The foundation estimates the appropriate wage rate for volunteers based upon the tasks performed. The current rate averages to approximately $18.05.

"We have hundreds of volunteers who help in so many ways. They help raise money, serve on committees, serve as board of directors," said Jean Williamson, vice president of Community Impact for United Way of Blount County.

Reasons for serving the community vary from volunteer to volunteer. For Bennett, his life-altering medical problem provided him with a new perspective on life. He said he volunteered for United Way in the past because he felt like he was supposed to. Now, he said he volunteers because it is the right thing to do.

"I feel a lot more than I used to," Bennett said. "My heart is full."

As United Way of Blount County campaign chair, one of Bennett’s primary responsibilities is to put together a team who is going to help meet the organization’s fundraising goals.

"The money comes when people see what the money is doing for our community," Bennett said. He is the self-proclaimed cheerleader for United Way of Blount County. "People helping people is what this world is all about."

Blount County native Debby Gray has been helping on United Way of Blount County fundraising campaigns for two years. Gray, who is an employee benefits broker for Cate Russell Insurance, said that volunteering is an opportunity to use her outgoing personality to help others.

"Success is measured a lot of ways," Gray said. She said she displays a quotation attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson that ends with the line, "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

Funds contributed to United Way of Blount County touch the lives of one in five people in Blount County. More than 85 percent of the money contributed goes to health and human services programs. Some of the partner agencies include the Boys and Girls Club of Blount County, the Blount County chapter of the American Red Cross, the Blount County Literacy Council and Haven House to name a few. To find ways to volunteer, to the web site of United Way of Blount County, unitedwayblount.org.

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