Hi-Hope Service Center volunteers embody spirit of community

Fifty-two-year-old Marty unveiled his talent for doing impersonations of TV personalities while riding in a Hi-Hope Service Center van on the way to a volunteer project.

"Wiillllmmmaaaaa!" he shouted in an impromptu imitation of Fred Flintstone.

"Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do," he quipped as Ricky Ricardo, the Cuban-born spouse of TV's most famous redhead.

That morning in the van, Marty had a captive audience - two other Hi-Hope clients named Ethan and Ricky who also had volunteered to do a little grounds maintenance at the Vines Gardens Park.

Most Wednesdays, a crew of volunteers from Hi-Hope visits the county-owned park to either pull weeds or pick up pine cones and sticks.

The weekly treks began more than a year ago, when park employee Peggy Moss asked us if we had any clients who would like to help out.

"I really look forward to them coming," Peggy said after directing Marty, Ethan and Ricky to the park's children's area to start weeding. "Volunteering gives them a good feeling about themselves - that they are contributing. They take so much pride in themselves."

Over the past couple of years, Hi-Hope clients have stepped forward to help many Gwinnett organizations. They have volunteered to:

n Paint centerpieces for a luncheon honoring participants in the county's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.

n Pack "little reader" packages at the request of the public libraries.

n Help with mass mailings for the March of Dimes.

n Sort clothes at the Goodwill.

n Bring Meals on Wheels to homebound Gwinnett residents the third week of each month.

n Make regular visits to a local nursing home.

n Participate in Gwinnett's annual Great Days of Service.

One of their biggest undertakings each year is to assist with community food drives, particularly during the holidays. A few years ago, the organizers had a dilemma - how to make food pickups from area schools before they closed each afternoon.

"With the times and places we needed stuff picked up, we were having a hard time finding someone to do it," said Joan Irving, a former pantry coordinator for Lawrenceville Cooperative Ministry.

"Hi-Hope has a work force available during the day, and vans and trucks. So they did a wonderful job."

The Hi-Hope volunteers go to the schools, load the food onto our vans, and bring it to a warehouse for sorting.

"They troop in and out carrying one bag at a time," Joan said. "They love doing it, even though it is hard work, and we have a good time with them.

"They have filled a gap we were not able to cover otherwise. It has been a real boon to our food drives. Hi-Hope volunteers have been immensely helpful."

Our clients' volunteerism received special recognition in October 2003, when Hi-Hope was presented the first Together We Can award from the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services. The award is presented annually at the fall kickoff for the coalition's Great Day of Service.

In the four years that I've been at Hi-Hope, I've been struck by how well our folks embody the true spirit of community.

Ricky, for example, is one of our most skilled workshop employees and his paychecks reflect that.

His monthly earnings have given him enough purchasing power to buy a boom box and lots of CDs and his favorite drink: "I buy Cokes."

But, when asked, Ricky didn't hesitate to give up a day's wages in order to help out at the Vines.

"Everybody should help a little," he explained.

I want to invite you to become a more integral part of Hi-Hope Service Center as it embarks on its fifth decade of continuous service to Gwinnett residents with developmental disabilities.

We do need your help and your friendship.

And Marty needs a new captive audience.

Keep Hope alive

Please mark Oct. 15 on your calendars.

That's the date of Hi-Hope's third annual 5K Challenge Run, 1 Mile Fun Walk/Run, one of our organization's important fundraising activities.

In addition to the endurance tests, there will be a bake sale, door prizes and lots of fun. Medals will be presented to everyone who finishes either race.

Entries postmarked by Oct. 10 will cost $15. Then the fee goes to $20. Registration starts at 7:30 a.m. on race day in the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center lobby.

For information, call Hi-Hope at 770-963-8694 or visit www.hihopecenter.org for an entry form.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Alice Cunningham of the Hi-Hope Service Center.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.