Caring in the Community


A well-known quote from Jewish diarist Anne Frank recognizes the power of every individual to make a difference: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Dedicated North Carolinians impact the lives of many through individual acts and scores of service hours. We celebrate all volunteers, big and small, who give their time and talents to improve the lives of others and strengthen our Triangle community. Here are the stories of a few who are making a difference for children in their communities.

Karen Peterman, pictured above, volunteers in Durham.

Boosting academic skills

TWO hours a week

The Emily K Center was the first place Karen Peterman looked for volunteer opportunities when she relocated to Durham. Targeting low-income children with academic promise, the center reaches into the community to inspire and enable economically disadvantaged kids to achieve their greatest potential.

While the center offers a variety of volunteer opportunities, Peterman was impressed by the quality of their Pioneer Scholars program, and began volunteering as a tutor in 2009.

“I was able to work with each of the kids from one grade level,” Peterman says. “It was fun for me to learn their personalities, watch them learn how to read or do math, and then just be so proud of themselves for what they were doing.”

Peterman is comfortable giving two hours a week during the school year – about 100 hours last year – because of how closely progress is measured at the Emily K Center.

“They really care about making sure that the work they’re doing is making a difference for the kids and for the families that are involved,” Peterman says.

She recalls a quick and calculated response by staff educators when one student in the program was not progressing as quickly as others. “It was really impressive that they recognized that and then came up with a plan and utilized volunteers to make sure he got the attention that he needed,” she says. “That was special and important and a big part of why their program works.”

Located less than a mile from downtown Durham and adjacent to the Duke University campus, the Emily K Center was founded by Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2006 and relies heavily on dedicated volunteers.

“We had 112 volunteer tutors make a commitment of at least a semester of service last year,” says Adam Eigenrauch, director of education for the center.

Other volunteer opportunities include ongoing or flexible assignments like administrative support or special projects.

Peterman appreciated the chance to be part of real change in her community. “It felt good to know that the work we were doing was making a difference,” she says. “Absolutely.”

– Mary Parry

Making a difference Is a family activity

Helping others is a family affair for Raleigh residents Sean and Gina Williams and their four daughters: Sydney, 12, Caleigh, 10, Kacie, 8, and Delanee, 4.

“When she was 4, Sydney started asking questions about why some people were homeless,” Gina says. “We wanted her to understand that she has a good life, but not all people do. Volunteering seemed like a great way to do that.”

In addition, when Caleigh was 10 days old she was diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s disease. The Williamses received a tremendous outpouring of support from family and friends. “That experience compelled us to pay it forward and give back,” Sean says.

During Caleigh’s treatment, the Williamses benefitted from services at the Ronald McDonald House in Durham. Now, several times each year, they reciprocate by serving dinner to other RMH families. The girls have also donated gently used toys to RMH so that kids who are away from home at Christmas will receive a gift.

“It makes our hearts grow bigger, knowing we have helped someone else,” Sydney says.

Delivering food to low-income residents on behalf of Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is a monthly family activity. Recently, the Williamses met a blind man who could not cook for himself. The girls offered him ready-to-eat items including an apple, snack and bread. Another resident hugged Delanee after receiving her bag of food.

“When we see the people’s faces, we know they’re appreciative and we’ve made them happy,” Caleigh says.

“It feels good, helping other people to feel special,” Kacie adds.

Although IFFS is her sisters’ favorite activity, Sydney (an avid dancer) recalls “tapping for the blind” as her most memorable volunteer experience. Coordinated by Stage Door Dance in Brier Creek, this event brings dance’s sound and vibration to children at Governor Morehead School for the Blind.

“I love seeing their faces when they clap to the beat and dance along with us,” Sydney says.

Each year, Gina and the girls decide on a service project to complete during the girls’ winter break. In January 2010, they spent three weeks collecting items for Pajama Pals, a Cary nonprofit that provides pajamas, toothbrushes and books to children in crisis.

In exchange for their help, Pajama Pals gave the family Disney World vouchers. “We, in turn, donated the vouchers to a Florida charity so that six terminally ill children could enjoy a free day at Disney,” Gina says.

The Williamses suggest families interested in volunteering start with small actions. “Donate toys that you don’t use and go up from there,” Sydney says. Also find something you feel passionate about that can be done in your free time.

“Most importantly, make it fun to be involved together,” Sean says.

– Maria J. Mauriello

Providing at-risk youth with needed resources

With three young children of their own and a job that entails almost constant travel during basketball season, the last thing you would expect from ESPN’s sports analyst Hubert Davis and his wife, Leslie, is their active and conscientious involvement in volunteer work. In addition to church involvement and hosting college students as an alternative to the party scene, the Durham residents have helped Orange County’s Volunteers for Youth program raise money. And when the basketball season ends in April, they will mentor a local child through the one-on-one volunteer program.

“These are the kids in the same schools, parks and playgrounds as our kids,” Hubert says. “Being involved in Volunteers for Youth is like taking care of your front and back yard.”

Four years ago John Blanchard, assistant athletic director at UNC-Chapel Hill, asked the Davises to provide local celebrity appeal for the Volunteers for Youth golf tournament that raises money for the nonprofit’s programs. Since the Davises cannot help every local organization, they researched the organization to be sure it was a good fit.

Founded in 1981, the organization provides three programs: one-one-one mentoring, community service that allows youth already involved in the court system to perform court-mandated hours to get back on track, and a teen court for middle and high school kids who are first-time offenders in which fellow students evaluate and assess their misdemeanor offenses.

One of the aspects of the program that especially appeals to the Davises is that kids who were previously involved in the system as offenders can come back and serve in the teen court in any of the roles (prosecutor, defense attorney, clerk, bailiff, judge or juror).

Providing kids a second chance and making a positive change within the community is part of Volunteers for Youth’s mission. “We strongly believe in loving your neighbor,” Hubert says.

The Davises also value that Volunteers for Youth helps kids who are in-need, at-risk or possibly already on the road to delinquency. A well-timed intervention could change the direction of their lives. “Not everybody has two parents that model the way life could be for them,” Leslie says.

“Everybody’s resources are different, but everyone can give back a little time or money, whatever they can spare,” Hubert says. “Sometimes it’s a matter of priority.”

Hubert adds that if families prioritize what they value and take time away from diversions like the Internet and TV, they might have more time than they think.

How will the Davis children feel about sharing their mom and dad with another child? They are so used to having other kids around the house that Leslie and Hubert aren’t worried about how their mentee will fit in.

“This gives [our kids] even more chance to build relationships,” Leslie says. “When they see a new face, they just say, ‘Let’s go play.'”

– Robin Whitsell

Touching lives for decades by reaching out to teens

Ruby Bryant says her husband, Jackie, told her he knew in the fifth grade they were going to get married. More than 40 years and three children later,

the Johnston County natives have more than settled into his prophecy. The couple’s life has been a journey of selfless giving, influencing and helping hundreds of people during decades of volunteer and community work. Theirs is a story of love reaching into the community.

Ruby realized she wanted to combine a career with her love for others when working as a young waitress and hostess. She began as a volunteer for Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action’s local Head Start program. Jackie’s volunteer career began in high school and continued with the Smithfield Department of Parks and Recreation.

Their two paths merged when Jackie became a volunteer for the Smithfield Housing Authority and asked his wife to join him. The

solicitation was merely a courtesy because the two were already, soul mates whose paths naturally and consistently led to helping people.

Ruby donated her afternoons to the Housing Authority working with young residents, many of them teen mothers whose lives, as well as their babies’ lives, were at risk of underdevelopment.  She canvassed door to door to get her participants. She also co-wrote and won a drug elimination grant, which included funds to start a Soap Opera Club. The club discussed life issues and included a self-help component that provided instruction in parent involvement as an added bonus.

Within four years, the number of teen pregnancies among the participants in the program had dropped to zero. Her message to her young residents was, “It’s not where you live, it’s how you live.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree and now serving as director of human resources for Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action Inc., Ruby is a testimony to living with a purpose.

Jackie, physically challenged by multiple sclerosis, tells his young charges that, “I can do anything I want with proper modifications.” A member of a wheelchair basketball team, he once coached a team of eight young men. Each one went to college or joined the military.

Jackie’s work continues as a long-time volunteer with Smithfield Parks and Recreation. That agency recently recognized him with the Bryant-Marrett Meritorious Award, which will subsequently be awarded to a deserving person each year. The Johnston County Citizens Association has also honored him for his community service. He has created his own nonprofit organization called Young Men of Promise, which offers counseling, athletic and employment components.

Jackie sums up his purpose for volunteering: “I feel like I couldn’t make it without it. I’m always riding through the community to find out what can be done to help the kids.”

– Crystal Kimpson Roberts

Finding the right opportunity

Family time spent giving back creates warm memories and rich experiences with a bonus of benefits such as greater self-confidence and closer connections with community. Online resources like recommend assessing skills, interests and schedules when considering volunteer opportunities.

With kids in mind, these service areas are good places to start to find a great fit for your family:

* Animal shelters like Second Chance Animal Shelter in Raleigh (

* Services for seniors like Meals on Wheels of Durham (

* Food banks like the Triangle’s Interfaith Food Shuttle (

* Services for the homeless like the Raleigh Rescue Mission (

* Efforts for active duty military like Operation Gratitude (

* Family-friendly fundraising activities like Cary’s Reindeer Romp 5K (

* Support for families in need, like Chapel Hill’s Ronald McDonald House (

For more ideas, contact volunteer centers like those in Durham County ( and Orange County ( and the Triangle-wide Triangle Impact (

– Mary Parry

Categories: Get Involved, Giving Back, Lifestyle, Solutions