Mark Harris, Taner Swinea, airport manager Jo Ann Speer, commercial sales manager Kerry Speer, Garret Cote, (back, from left) Michael Bequiristain, Terrance Phifer, Kyle Williams, Eric Staggs and Robert Burrow
Most of the time, when a person needs help, all he or she need do is ask. Volunteers exist around each and every corn and, most of the time, are able to fill a standard-sized college classroom.
This is exactly what “volunteer-minded” Sharye Hendrix discovered when she chose to address three of Dr. Nancy Sonlietner’s social problems classes in August. The response was immediate and unanimous. Class members and several members of the Sigma Chi and Pike fraternities jumped at the chance and, on Sept. 10-11, they were at the Airport Extravaganza at the Everett-Stewart Regional Airport taking up tickets, running the snow cone machine, patrolling inflatables and helping in any way possible.
“We needed volunteers,” Hendrix said.
“A few years ago, in 2006, Weakley County and Obion County joined together in this airport and the name was changed. A seven-member board was selected and the work began. It did not take long to realize the impact that this ‘joint venture’ would have on the ability to acquire grants and receive recognition throughout the state.”
Hendrix serves as the volunteer/vendor coordinator for the airport and added, “With the airport being a front door to the community and with my being a big believer in volunteerism, I chose to speak to Nancy’s classes to see if I could get any of them to help out.”
Twenty-six students and 22 fraternity members answered the call.
“The social problems class is a course that combines in-class academic learning with students volunteering in the community to obtain a real-life experience of the concepts taught in the class,” Sonleitner said.
“Students are required to provide 10 hours of volunteer service throughout the semester. The number of students enrolled in the four sections offered in the fall semester is greater than 200, totaling more than 2,000 hours of volunteer service within the community.”
“In order to demonstrate the connections students are making between lectures, course work and the realities of the community, students must reflect on their learning in the context of their volunteer work. This is accomplished through a guided reflection that asks students to identify the social problem present in their volunteer experience and how they connect that social problem to their academic experience.
Student reflections are often highly introspective, insightful and poignant in their understanding of the ramifications of specific social problems on individuals and families in the community and in the larger society,” she added.
“Frequently, the requirement that students volunteer in the community results in a lifelong commitment to civic engagement and contributing their skills and talents to making life better for others.”
Hendrix had every confidence in their enthusiasm and abilities and the students never quit. They succeeded in recruiting 22 kids for Reading Railroad in Obion County, helped in the V.I.P. tent, cooked, sold concessions and T-shirts, took up tickets, ran the snow cone machine and patrolled the inflatables.
“If it hadn’t been for these volunteers, we couldn’t have had such a success with this event as we did,” airport manager Jo Ann Speer said.
Later on, after the event, the students received an extra treat in the form of a pizza party. At that time, they were let in on how much their contributions truly meant, especially for cystic fibrosis.
“Jo Ann gave a talk about the disease and how, with their volunteering, they’d helped with ‘Kick CF,’ the nationwide program that challenges college students to raise funds and awareness for the disease,” Hendrix said.
“It was very emotional and eye opening. They’d helped with an event and a cause.”
Several students wrote letters about their experience and the fraternities pledged more help on the spot. Vendors offered praise for the volunteers.
“UTM prides itself on getting out into the community to help and this is a fun event,” Hendrix said.
“I told the group, ‘You never know who’s watching you. You never know who you might impress to do something like this. We can do this.’”
Class members who helped included Hunter Smith, Chaz Edwards, Matt Melton, Forrester M. Wall, Bob Baker, Nicholas Michaels, Anthony Young, Trey Pruett, David Foley, Matt Wright, Chambry Callicott, Marcia Mayes, Patricia Dinning, Brittany Payne, Kimberly Foley, Charli Jent, Krysten Harris, Amanda Greer, Megan Spellings, Jane Adele Scott, James Payne, Alexandria Todd, Kimberly Woods, Ashley Cunningham and Dylan Gillespie.
Fraternity members who volunteered included Jamye Freeman, Luke Lemons, Keith Malm, Josh Horton, Jeremy Bond, Justin Burns, Lee French, Ryan Williams, Colton Jones, Joey Moore, Patrick James, Terrance Phifer, Jacob Schnnittjer, Mark Harris, Taner Swinea, Garret Cote, Michael Bequiristain, Kyle Williams, Eric Staggs and Robert Burrow.
In a letter, Cunningham spoke of her time helping with the Reading Railroad booth.
“I was assigned to work the Reading Railroad, a program that I was in as a child. As soon as the gates opened, the children began to come in handfuls at a time,” she said.
“As the crowds came, the show began. It was amazing to see such a large object move so gracefully through the air. Each plane moved higher and faster than the last and just left me feeling proud that such amazing people could work so hard for such a great cause. This event would do such wonderful things for so many people in need. It was a lot of fun and amazing to be a part of.”
The Sigma Chi fraternity also wrote a letter of appreciation in being allowed to be part of such an event.
“A portion of the proceeds went towards the research and awareness of cystic fibrosis, a charity we are proud to support. The time we spent working presented our brothers the opportunity to exercise leadership, teamwork and responsibility as well as giving us the privilege of getting our chapter more involved in the community,” the letter read.
“I just can’t say enough about how much this helped,” Hendrix said.
“I started taking up money on the street as a volunteer and I’m now helping with this event. This is something I look forward to every year and I look forward to the potential for more and more volunteers to join in.”