5 People You Need to Know: Most Treasured Volunteers of 2020-2021

During the past two years, the one thing that hasn’t changed is…change. We’ve seen changes everywhere, from how the United Nations holds their meetings down to the addition of masks in our daily attire.

Many nonprofit organizations have had to change, too—their hours, their way of delivering service, where their staff works, and so on. One thing that hasn’t changed for them is the dedication and value of their volunteers.

The Most Treasured Volunteers of 2020-2021 dramatically reflect that dedication and value.

The Most Treasured Volunteers of 2020-2021 dramatically reflect that dedication and value. The winners of the annual MTV Awards are definitely 5 People You Need to Know.

MARK BRANDT, Kids That Tri at the YMCA

Mark linked his own passion for fitness and community service by introducing inner-city youth to triathlon competitions. The program he designed benefits urban youth who may never have had a chance to swim, bike, and run. Mark identified and removed barriers by obtaining support that allowed each child to have—FREE of charge—swim goggles and caps, running shoes, bike helmets, tri-gear, and a bike.

Kids that Tri at the YMCA was formed and grew during the pandemic. After months of training—following all pandemic precautions—participants competed in their first race during the spring of 2021. Mark led the group with hard work, persistence, and dedication.

For many kids, the program was their only pandemic physical activity. It helped them combat the effects of social isolation and led to new friendships.

For a few hours, the kids were able to forget about the pandemic, school, work, or home life and just enjoy themselves while growing in mind, body and spirit. Mark’s commitment to helping others is matched by his boundless energy and his ability to get the job done right.

MARK SAYS:

People think you’re being unselfish to give of your time. But if you do it properly, when you give an hour, you can get 10 or 20 hours of satisfaction. It’s hard right now for not-for-profits to get volunteers and if you are so inclined to donate of your time, put a mask on, go get the booster shot…they need you.

TONI JOHNSON, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless

Toni has been a fierce community organizer and advocate in Cleveland for decades. And she has been a member of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless since its formation in the 1980s. Her wisdom and experience have provided meaningful mentorship, and her support helped with organizational challenges.

Toni is instrumental in keeping NEOCH and the community updated about resources to help people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Cleveland. Her deep knowledge of the day-to-day realities of people experiencing homelessness is invaluable. On many occasions, she has publicly spoken on forums about homelessness and its causes.

Toni is instrumental in keeping NEOCH and the community updated about resources to help people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Cleveland.

Toni is a radical voice of clarity in Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless efforts to place anti-racism, compassion, love, and dignity at the forefront of their work and strategic vision. She is deeply committed to breaking down the barriers that impede the community’s collective work to end homelessness. She is a weaver, connecter, and invaluable resource to the social justice community.

TONI SAYS:

“You do have to love the people to serve the people. And so that’s what I’ve been doing all these 30 some odd years is working with the people that I’ve learned to love.”

ED ROUND, Seeds of Literacy

When Ed retired from his legal career in 2015, he responded to an ad for volunteers at Seeds of Literacy. The very traits that made Ed formidable in the courtroom are the ones that make him a favorite of students in the classroom. Adult learners trust him.

Frustrated with the lack of materials for adults learning how to read, he sought out something that would be appropriate. He found City Stories, a book written for beginning reader adults.

When the pandemic closed the classroom, he was an early adopter to the virtual classroom and made it work for his students.

Ed attends every professional development workshop, assists with fluency testing each week, and regularly promotes the organization’s mission. Because of his enthusiasm, new volunteers have signed up at Seeds of Literacy and more tutors are working with beginning readers.

When Ed talks about volunteering, he uses the word “fun” a lot because he genuinely enjoys his work. He believes in celebrating even small successes with his students because it makes them happy.

Staff and students love his willingness to try any lesson with gusto. He’s friendly, humble, and eager to help students who often have had a lot of negative experiences with education. He’s so popular, students often ask to work with him by name.

Ed is a calming presence in the classroom. He is reliable, dependable, and willing to do whatever is needed to help students and staff. He’s always smiling, patient, kind, and wise.

ED SAYS:

What I get the most satisfaction out of is students succeeding. And it doesn’t matter to me whether that student has succeeded by actually completing all the requirements to get their high school equivalency, or whether that student has succeeded by understanding something about long division. You know, it’s the success of the individual student.

TERRENCE ROUNDS, Greater Cleveland Food Bank

Terry has been a volunteer for more than 20 years and has supported many areas of programming at the Cleveland Food Bank. In addition to speaking with individuals about nutrition services and other benefits for which they may be eligible, he also serves as an ambassador and speaks to civic groups, businesses, and others. But he also engages in hands-on activities—and continued to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the pandemic, all in-person events stopped. Terry spent countless hours working with the Food Bank’s staff to turn their well-known Poverty Simulations into a virtual program that helps people understand the challenges faced daily by individuals and families struggling with poverty.

Terry spent countless hours working with the Food Bank’s staff to turn their well-known Poverty Simulations into a virtual program that helps people understand the challenges faced daily by individuals and families struggling with poverty.

Since April 2020, Terry has helped with large-scale, non-contact weekly distributions of food at the City of Cleveland’s Muni Lot. Volunteers are asked to commit 4-5 hours to serve drivers in 2,000+ cars in the distribution line. Terry has been at nearly every weekly Food Bank distribution regardless of the weather.

The passion and commitment that Terry brings to his work are evident to everyone who has the opportunity to work with him. He is deeply dedicated to helping people struggling with food insecurity. There isn’t a task too big or too small that Terry won’t tackle.  His approachable nature allows him to connect with clients, partners, fellow volunteers, and donors. He is an esteemed member of the team.

TERRY SAYS:

Once you go the first time, it’s hard not to go back the second and the third and fourth time. It’s something that gets inside you, and it’s that spirit of being part of a greater community that is working for the common good. That is something that I think you carry with you throughout your days, even when you’re not volunteering. And it impacts how you react with other people. It has a much larger impact than just a few hours that you might spend each week or each month volunteering.

BOB SIMONEAU, Cuyahoga EITC Coalition

Bob has been a loyal volunteer for 15 years helping hardworking families and individuals to get money back at tax time at the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition. Within the first three years, Bob quickly went through the Earned Income Tax Credit training program and started serving as a site coordinator, managing the operations of tax sites during the tax season.

Bob spent many hours becoming familiar with tax law and was certified as an advanced tax preparer with the IRS. He enjoys solving the puzzle of each tax return, but more than that, he understands that knowing the ins and outs of tax law is his way of helping others.

Due to COVID-19, the program had to build a method of accepting, completing and filing tax returns virtually. It was a big learning process for everyone, but it would not have functioned without Bob. While returns were being completed, he called clients, keeping them up to date, talking them through the process and answering their questions. Over the course of the tax season, he called more than 500 people.

 Tax season is a stressful time for everybody, but Bob has a way of making people feel comfortable and reassured.

Tax season is a stressful time for everybody, but Bob has a way of making people feel comfortable and reassured. One family came back to him year after year for over a decade and Bob has seen each of their children grow up.

Bob helps people find all the benefits and credits they are due, and save hundreds of dollars they would otherwise need to spend on a tax preparer. He’s personally invested in the people he serves and genuinely cares about every person that he works with at the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition.

BOB SAYS:

Yeah, it feels great…People came to do get their taxes done and, and if we can do it for them successfully, and we usually can, almost always can. So they go away satisfied. They trust us. I enjoy

the people I work with, they’re tremendous, and there’s a large number of them. And I also enjoy the people we serve. They are very interesting people.

 

As the world continues to change, the community’s need and appreciation for volunteers will grow. Who might you nominate for next year’s Most Treasured Volunteer Awards?