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Volunteers of the Year: HSO, Johnson Farm, Kiwanis Club, Smart Start

On Thanksgiving, we are featuring our Season of Giving Q&As of people that agency leaders nominated as their volunteers of the year. We are featuring them four at a time through the weekend.

 

MARY HIGHBERGER, Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra

 

What do you do in your volunteer job?


I am the volunteer coordinator of the Friends of the Hendersonville Symphony. Friends is a group of very loyal supporters of the symphony who enjoy being ushers at each symphony concert, at the Youth Orchestra concerts, and at educational concerts for the Henderson County Public School students. Some Friends enjoy office work for the symphony staff. Also, the Friends are a great help setting up the Hendersonville Symphony’s Gala Ball held in February. In addition, I work with Hendersonville High School students who enjoy music and like to do volunteer work for the symphony.

How long have you been volunteering?


I have been volunteering for three years with the Hendersonville Symphony. I also serve on their board.

Why do you volunteer?


I am a lifelong volunteer. In high school I served as a candy striper in a nursing home. I believe in giving back to the community which can be done in so many ways. Even when I was working full time, I was always volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Three years ago, I went to Thailand for a month and volunteered in a teacher training center. Working overseas was an exciting adventure. Now in addition to volunteering for the symphony, I am an ESL tutor for the Literacy Council, I sing in my church choir, and also do the flowers one Sunday a month at my church. It makes me feel good to be helping others as well as being able to use my creative talents.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?


It gives me a boost of energy getting out into the community, meeting great people, and helping where I can use my gifts and talents. I believe that the way to stay healthy is to eat well, exercise, and do something worthwhile every day.

If someone is interested in volunteering, what is the best advice you would give based on your own experience?


Get to know the different organizations that are looking for volunteers. Decide where you would like to use your skills and experience. Or you could learn new skills at an organization that will train you. Hendersonville is full of great social service agencies that would welcome your help. If you need help finding a place to volunteer, look on Henderson County United Way’s website under “Volunteer.” Start with a couple of hours a week to begin getting comfortable with the idea. You may end up like me doing lots more!

 

KATHIE DOOLE, Historic Johnson Farm Foundation

 

What do you do in your volunteer job?


While at the Johnson Farm, each Wednesday I give tours for anyone who comes for the 10:30 am tour. Also assist with school tours throughout the year as well as help during the annual Christmas Open House and the Spring Festival. I also try to help out Mandy Gibson, our Executive Director, whenever she needs someone at the Farm.

How long have you been volunteering?


I actually started volunteering around 1989/90 when the farm was donated to the Henderson County school system and we started to clean the farmhouse. During my years of teaching at A-B Tech, I helped during the annual Spring Festival and then the Christmas Open House. Now that I have retired from teaching, I can give more time.

Why do you volunteer?


Volunteering is an important part of my life and I truly enjoy working with all visitors, the children, and especially working with Mandy. As a former teacher, I guess you can never really stop teaching even though it becomes a different type of teaching.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?


Talking with all visitors about the history of the Johnson Farm and getting to know about everyone who visits – where they are from, what they are interested in, and hearing them talk about the memories that the Johnson Farm brings to them from their own lives with their parents, grandparents or sometimes great-grandparents.

If someone is interested in volunteering, what is the best advice you would give based on your own experience?


Find an area that you are truly interested in and volunteering will become a big part of your life. Enthusiasm about what you do is a big plus in the enjoyment.

 

JOSH BLEDSOE, Hendersonville Kiwanis Club

 

What do you do in your volunteer job?


I recently joined Kiwanis of Hendersonville because I wanted to belong to a civic organization that focuses on serving the children of our community. The Kiwanis Club of Hendersonville offers so many amazing volunteer opportunities. Before joining the Kiwanis Club, I volunteered alongside Kiwanians at the 4-H county speech competition. By observing Kiwanians in action, I knew this was an organization that cares about the youth of our community.

How long have you been volunteering?


I started volunteering when I was a freshman in college. I was a student at my local community college, and I became involved with one of the Kiwanis-sponsored student leadership programs, Circle K. Circle K is a collegiate level student leadership program of Kiwanis. Through that organization, I had the opportunity to volunteer while learning leadership skills.

Why do you volunteer?


In 2005, I walked into a student club meeting. It was a Kiwanis Student Leadership program club called Circle K. This club was sponsoring a service project at a local Elementary School. For three days, I volunteered at this project, and I had a blast. It was amazing to serve my local community with others who were passionate about civic engagement. After this project, I continued to participate in Circle K. I fell in love with learning because the local Kiwanis Club supported student leadership programs that showed me the connection between service, academics and leadership. I graduated from the community college and transferred to a four-year university because of the inspiration I found from the advisers through my participation in Kiwanis Circle K program. I volunteer today because I remember what it was like to experience the compassionate spirit of Kiwanis. I hope in some way to share that compassionate spirit of Kiwanis with others in my community.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?


The best thing about volunteering is having the opportunity to give back to your community. As a member of Kiwanis, I have the chance to give back with others who also care about serving children. That’s amazing!

If someone is interested in volunteering, what is the best advice you would give based on your own experience?


If someone is interested in volunteering, they should reach out to organizations like Kiwanis that are serving their local community. Volunteer service is amazing when completed in community.

 

BECKY POPLIN, Smart Start

 

What do you do in your volunteer job?


Smart Start’s mission is close to my heart. Nurturing children from birth to five by supporting quality child care, health, parenting and early literacy in our community is essential, since those years build a foundation that lasts a lifetime. When I first returned home to Hendersonville, I served as Executive Director of Smart Start for three years before I returned to the principalship. Within the school district, my links to Smart Start continued through kindergarten transition work such as the Kindergarten Readiness Rally. In 2013 I had the opportunity to become a Board member, and I joined with enthusiasm. For two three-year terms I served in several different capacities, including the Program, Community Awareness, and Finance Committees, and I served for part of that time as Board Treasurer. I was fortunate to be involved in the beginning of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library project and the annual Smart Start Book Sale, which supports that effort. Throughout the year, Smart Start collects used children’s books for sale at the end of February, and all of those proceeds support sending new books through the mail each month to any birth to five-year-old who lives in Henderson County. Early literacy initiatives like these and others funded by Smart Start give our youngest citizens a better start in life and build the groundwork for school success.

How long have you been volunteering?


I served as a Smart Start Board member for two consecutive three year terms, from 2013-2019. I still advocate for Smart Start projects, though I am no longer on the board. Other volunteer work is with Upward Elementary School and United Way/Women United, and I have recently become a Guardian ad Litem in Henderson County.

Why do you volunteer?


Someone recently asked me that very question, and I answered - because there is a need and because I can. From the time I was six years old, I knew my purpose in life would be focused on children. I became a teacher and then an elementary principal because of that commitment. As a retiree, the venues have changed, but the purpose remains. Children need a nurturing and supportive community in order to flourish and become the best they can be. The more I volunteer, the more I know the importance of the “village” in raising children.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?


Each of us has one life, lived one moment, one day at a time. Each day we make a choice about how we use our time. If our choice is consistent with our beliefs and our purposes, that time is well used. The best volunteering experience comes from matching our personal purpose with the right opportunity.

If someone is interested in volunteering, what is the best advice you would give based on your own experience?


Since about 1990, I have read and re-read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Four of those habits are useful for getting started in volunteering.
• Begin with the End in Mind: What is your purpose in life? What is the purpose of the organization or group? Do they match?
• Be Proactive: Listen closely and ask good questions.
• Put First Things First: The purpose of the work comes first. Volunteering is about service toward the purposes of the organization or task. Commit yourself fully to the jobs at hand and don’t take on more than you can handle well. Keep your word.
• Seek First to Understand: Know that you will learn new things all along the way, so always be open to learning and improving your own work.