Building a better world, Volunteerism and the UCC
Written by Gayle Starling-Melvin
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Check out this classified ad. Wanted: someone to work away from home for weeks, months or a year at a time; able to perform arduous, physical labor for long hours at a stretch; and willing to receive no pay and no benefits. Only heartfelt individuals need apply.
Think that would scare people away? Not necessarily. For more than 40 years, the Volunteer Ministries of the UCC's national setting has recruited thousands of willing volunteers, who devote their time, vivacity and talents throughout the United States and Puerto Rico in one of three programs: Partners in Service (individual volunteers), Mission Trips (group projects, including disaster relief) and Service Days (at General Synod meetings).
In 2001, more than 100 individuals will volunteer through the Partners in Service program and nearly 1,000 with the Mission Trips and Service Days combined.
"I love to help persons find a way to express their call to serve through volunteering," says the Rev. Kathleen C. (K.C.) Ackley, executive for Volunteer Ministries. "Recently, I learned that at least three executive directors of agencies who are members of the UCC's Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) are former volunteers in the UCC volunteer program."
Every year is important for Volunteer Ministries, but 2001 is especially significant, as the U.N. General Assembly has declared it "International Year of the Volunteer."
"This celebration recognizes not only the countless hours volunteers give, but honors the transforming power volunteers can have in the lives of persons and communities around the world," says Ackley.
When members of St. Albans Congregational UCC in Queens, N.Y., were eager to serve with the UCC volunteer program, the Rev. Henry T. Simmons, Senior Pastor, recommended his parishioners work with Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit, ecumenical Christian organization that helps individuals and families in need build simple, decent and affordable homes.
Dorothy Gist, chair of St. Albans commission on Christian social action, spearheaded their Habitat enterprise, which raised the first "beam" on April 19.
Gist says working on this project, a two-family home that will house two Latino families, has been rewarding.
"Some passers-by couldn't believe we were volunteering our time," she says. "Many drivers passed, waved and tooted their horns in solidarity."
UCC volunteers spend time engaged in countless commendable ventures. Among other places, UCC volunteers presently are ministering with agencies such as these:
*Community Family Life Services in Washington, D.C., a Christian organization that facilitates personal growth and independence for families;
*Prodigals Community in Winston-Salem, N.C., an ecumenical Christian community that provides recovery ministries of spiritual growth, accountability and opportunities for drug-free, responsible living;
*Hopewell Inn in Mesopotamia, Ohio, a community farm and transitional residence for adults with mental illness;
*Pineros y Campesinos de Noroeste in Woodburn, Ore., a union of farm workers, tree planters and nursery workers striving to improve working and living conditions for farm workers.
Valentin Quack, a 20-year-old from Krefeld, Germany, is giving his time for a year in St. Louis, where he works at the United Church Neighborhood Houses (a CHHSM member), a non- profit foundation offering day-care and after-school programs for children 3 to 12 years of age.
Quack's motivation to volunteer is two-fold: He grew up in a family where his parents were always there and took care of him. And he had their full attention for all of his needs.
He wants to do the same for his charges.
"So many of these children just need me to be here for them. They crave attention," he says. "Some of their parents have problems of their own and can't spend enough time with them. And some of the parents have substance abuse problems."
Quack helps the older children with their math, English and geography homework and keeps the younger set happy by teaching them to sing German tunes.
"Although I'll return to Germany to begin college after my year here is over, I will always remember these children and the people I work with," says Quack. "We will always share a special bond."
To learn more about Volunteer Ministries, contact K.C. Ackley, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115; phone 216-736-3214; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit the UCC website www.ucc.org/church/volunteer/.