What makes a Most Treasured Volunteer?

Every year at this time, Community Solutions invites nominations for the Most Treasured Volunteer Award. This year, nominations will be accepted until June 28; forms and instructions are available hereDo you know someone who goes above and beyond to help their community? Nominate them for our Most Treasured Volunteer Award! Click To Tweet

But what makes a person a “most treasured volunteer?

First, treasured volunteers need to give their time freely for a cause that benefits others. While this is usually done through a nonprofit organization, we’ve learned over the years that that’s not always the case. For example:

  • In 1987, John Stepanski was named a Most Treasured Volunteer after he was nominated by a neighbor for helping neighbors and friends in need by providing transportation and assisting with home maintenance.

Sometimes people think that only those who don’t work secularly can volunteer.

Not so, as a brief walk down memory lane shows:

  • 1988: Frank Tilisky, Jr., Transitional Housing, Inc.—Volunteering every Saturday, he kept 80 bathrooms functioning, repaired broken furniture, painted walls and maintained equipment, often paying for tools and supplies out of his own pocket.
  • 1992: Meredith Balcerzak, Shaker Heights High School—For five years, this teen served meals to homeless people one day each month. She also took the lead in a program for inner-city children tutoring, organizing field trips and recruiting other student volunteers.
  • 2011-2012: Jerome Baker, Men of Central—This man became acutely aware of the lack of adult role models for the youth in his neighborhood, so he founded groups to help African American men mentor children ages 8 to 14.

Some think you must be in good health or circumstances yourself to help others.


  • 2000: Mary Lou Swartz, Community United Head Start & Day Care—She spent 30 years knitting hats, mittens and scarves for children—300 items each year—to “keep those little ears and fingers warm” even though she was legally blind.
  • 2008: Patricia Cole, Hattie Larlham—She gave more than 100 hours per year helping others as a resident companion and playgroup assistant, despite living with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Often people use the talents and skills they’ve honed professionally in their volunteer work.

For example:

  • 1999: Robin Avery, MD, Care Alliance—She provided on-site health care for homeless people once a week, recruited colleagues to volunteer with her, assisted with HIV education and donated food, clothing and toys for the children.
  • 2003: William Memberg, Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities—This research engineer answered an ad to help repair electronic toys for children with disabilities. He got others to join him and hundreds of toys were fixed or modified, saving agencies thousands of dollars in replacement costs.
  • 2012-2013: Brondy Shanker, Shaker Library—This retired teacher continued her career by helping non-English speaking families learn the language, despite severe problems with her eyes.

Some allow personal experience or tragedy to move them to volunteer:

  • 2000: Bruce Kriete, Lesbian/Gay Community Service Center—After losing a child to an AIDS-related illness, he co-founded a program providing training and resources to schools on issues related to safety and development of LGBT youth.
  • 2007: Debbie Riddle, Domestic Violence Center—After a family member was murdered, she became heavily involved in educating others and raising awareness about stalking. Her volunteer efforts led to creation of the Anti-Stalking Task Force in Cuyahoga County.
  • 2017-2018: Colleen Moran and Terri Noll both immersed themselves in volunteering when they lost their parents. Through the Hospice of the Western Reserve and the Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio, they offer others the same kind of compassionate care they received.

Clearly, one’s age, gender, race or socio-economic situation is not the most important factor in volunteering. Neither is the number of hours or years a person can devote. Rather, what makes a most treasured volunteer is the motive, the impact and the benefits of the time and energy they give.

Do you know a most treasured volunteer? I bet you do. Take a moment, think about what they do and nominate them so that others will know about them too.