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Making A Difference Through Community Involvement
by John C. Pleasants
In past issues of DIALOGUE there have been articles written about volunteering, its rewards, and what we need to do to become a volunteer. I thought it might be helpful to carry it a step further and write about community involvement. In this article, I will list many of the things I've gotten involved with and what I think the benefits are, both to me and to the people I've helped.
I'll begin with the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton, Virginia. I graduated from the school in 1972. While in school, I was on the Forensics team and competed in public speaking. I was also in a folk group that traveled to Lions Clubs and churches around the community promoting good will for the school and educating the public on what blind people can do if given the chance.
One of my speeches was about Corrections and how the state incarcerates people for the crimes they commit. To do the research for this speech, I went to a dear friend, Julius R. Johnson, who at the time was head of the Juvenile Division for the Richmond City Police Department. He connected me with Otis Brown, director of the Department of Welfare and Institutions. I wrote my speech from what I learned from our long chat and placed third in the Forensics competition for that year. Little did I know that years later I would work for this agency, now known as the Virginia Department of Corrections.
In later years, Lt. Johnson would retire from the police department and run for City Council in Richmond. During the summer of 1968, I helped him campaign by handing out brochures and talking about what a good friend he was to me and how I thought he'd be a great asset to City Council. I became interested in politics and the workings of government. I'm still quite interested in politics and consider it my civic duty to stay informed and work for the betterment of my local community. A friend became a mentor and sparked my interest in volunteerism and community work, a huge benefit.
Skip forward a few years to my return to school and the alumni association. There, I made another very close friend, Garland Nicely, who graduated in the 1930s. Over a weekend, we had a few long talks and he sparked a fire in me to continue working for our school and the students by working with the alumni association, raising funds to help provide things not included in the state budget. Garland is now deceased, but he left me with that drive and I still work diligently to help our school.
I learned about the United States Junior Chamber or Jaycees at work and attended a meeting. I listened to presentations about various community projects, such as Special Olympics and "Drive for the Blind," which provided transportation for the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. I was involved with the Jaycees for 11 years and made lasting friendships and gained leadership training, achieving outstanding state director of my chapter twice. My first wife, Kathy, loved working with the Jaycees behind the scenes and had fun working with me on all of the projects. We were quite a team for 19 years before she passed away in 2001. My wife Faye, who I met through my job at Corrections, has gotten involved with many community projects and tirelessly works alongside me.
I have been working in my local community for quite a few years. I have volunteered with the county mental health program; with a disability awareness program in the public schools; with the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind, which runs the Burkeville Lodge I wrote about last year; with the local Lions Club; and last but certainly not least, with Blindskills doing what I can to support our great magazine, DIALOGUE.
In conclusion, let me assure you I'm not saying all of this to brag, but rather to encourage those of you who haven't thought about getting involved in community service to seek out opportunities in your local area. The most rewarding work you can do is in your hometown helping others. By doing so, you help yourself by enriching your life with new people and knowing that someone you help will some day find a way to pay it forward. Even if they don't, think of the smiles you put on faces and the friendships you make; you will be richer than anything money can buy. Until we meet again in these pages, grab all the gusto in life. Remember you can do whatever you set your mind to doing and inspire others with your good works!
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