(CBS Charlotte) — Throughout every community in the United States, local heroes work tirelessly to make the world a better place.
Local heroes give their time and energy to causes that are near and dear to their hearts — without the need or desire for praise, reward, or recognition.
Charlotte is home to many local everyday heroes who help improve the well-being of our city — including the well-being of people who are sick, elderly, injured, or in need.
This month, CBS Charlotte is shining our Local Everyday Hero Spotlight on a Dad and Daughter Duo who volunteer their time to assist people in need.
Jeff Wilson has lived in Charlotte since 1986. He first began volunteering in our community in 2002. Here is Jeff’s interview:
Q. How does it feel to be nominated for being a local hero?
A. Almost silly. There are so many people who are doing so much more for so much longer. I’m not doing anything overly special, just what we’re all called to be doing.
Q. Why do you feel that it’s important to give back?
A. God has truly blessed me. All that I have (time, talents and treasure) are gifts from Him. I’m called to take what I need and share the rest. I’m also called to be a servant, and I’ve chosen to serve those less fortunate than me.
Q. When did you first start volunteering?
A. In 2002 I started volunteering at CMC-Pineville. In the summer of 2003, I volunteered to work on a Habitat for Humanity house my church was sponsoring. When that house was done I worked on the next one, and the next one …
That was 10 years ago. In 2009, I became a Board member for Habitat Matthews. In 2010, I became the ministry leader for Habitat at my church. In April, my church begins construction on our 7th Habitat house which is also Habitat Matthews’ 100th house! What a milestone! In the summer of 2012 I started volunteering each Thursday with Serve Charlotte’s Homeless.
Q. Which community effort is your favorite to attend?
A. Attending the Habitat House dedications is such an uplifting event. The families are finally given the keys to their own home. After having worked 400 plus hours themselves on it and other Habitat activities, they must feel great. Most of the families are coming from crowded, sub-standard rental housing. Most never dreamed they’d have a decent home of there own. But through the efforts of a lot of people, they now do.
Q. What has been your most humbling experience while volunteering?
A. Two come to mind. Last Thanksgiving, my daughter and I went Uptown to hand out turkey sandwiches, water and snacks. Along our route we came upon an elderly homeless lady, asleep on a street bench. Rachel gently put some food on her lap. The second occurred recently as we were cleaning up after a homeless supper. A man came in around 7 p.m., desperately asking if we had any food left. All that was left were two sandwich bags of hot dogs. As I offered them to him, apologizing this was all we had left, he said that it would make a fine meal for his family. He was so grateful. In a country and city like ours, why are people still living like this? What more can I do?
Q. If you could change one thing about homelessness, what would it be?
A. If I could, I’d love to end homelessness; more realistically, I’d like to see that these people all have a warm, dry, and safe place to go at night — year round.
Rachel Harris has lived in Charlotte for 26 years. She first began volunteering when she was a freshman in high school. Here is Rachel’s interview:
Q. When did you first start volunteering?
A. I first started volunteering my freshman year in high school. I was a “candy striper” at Carolinas Medical Center. My favorite thing to do was deliver flowers to patients. It was so rewarding seeing how people’s faces lit up when I brought the flowers and balloons into their hospital rooms. I volunteered off and on after that for various organizations until I really found my niche last year, and have made volunteering part of my regular schedule every week.
Q. Why do you feel compelled to volunteer?
A. Initially, I felt like there was something missing from my life. I had a good job and friends and family and hobbies, but I was searching for something deeper. I finally found causes that I’m truly passionate about and organizations that I support wholeheartedly. And now it doesn’t even feel like I’m “giving my time” when I volunteer. These organizations and the people involved have become such a big part of my life, and a big part of my heart, that I couldn’t imagine not being a part of it every week. I believe in what I’m doing and I know that in some small way I’m making a difference and that’s what keeps me coming back. I know I cannot change the whole world, but I will change the world for someone.
Q. How compassionate as a whole do you think residents in Charlotte are?
A. I think, as a whole, Charlotte residents have compassion for a good cause, but on a surface level. If you ask the homeless community in Charlotte, they will tell you that they are well fed in this community and rarely go hungry. People will step up to the plate and donate money and their time occasionally if they are asked, but I think few are willing to delve in and really make giving back and helping others a way of life. I think a lot of people are blissfully ignorant of just how deep some of the problems in our community are, and choose to remain that way.
Q. Which organizations do you volunteer with on a regular basis?
A. I volunteer through Hands on Charlotte which allows you access to volunteer opportunities with a variety of organizations. On Tuesdays, I’m one of the volunteer leaders at Hope Haven, a facility helping adults recovering from chemical dependency. I volunteer with the children who live there with their recovering parents. It’s a tough way to grow up and so many children that are born into that lifestyle go on to repeat their parents’ behaviors. I believe in being a positive, constant, and loving force in these kids’ lives. We have a regular group of volunteers that show up every week to spend time with them, and give them the one-on-one attention and encouragement that they need. That consistency is so important to what we are trying to do.
On Thursdays and some Sundays, I volunteer with Serve Charlotte’s Homeless. We collaborate with various church groups to provide a hot meal, homemade baked goods, snacks, water, clothing, and toiletries to 100 or so homeless individuals each week. More importantly, we also take the time to interact with those individuals on a more personal level. So many people, myself included at one time, have certain stereotypes of what a homeless person is.
When you take the time to sit down and talk with some of them and hear their stories, hear their worries and concerns, it changes your perception in a big way. Many of them really struggle with their situations and just need someone to listen sometimes, to be sympathetic, to be encouraging, to show up for them every week even if it’s just to provide a simple meal. Others are some of the friendliest and most positive people I’ve ever met. I’m inspired by their ability to remain happy, hopeful, and faithful in God despite their circumstances.
Q. Each time you volunteer, how does it make you feel?
A. Overall, I feel a genuine happiness and peace in my heart when I volunteer. I’ve also been moved to tears on many occasions by the amazing things I’ve experienced. I had a homeless man tell me one time, that when he’s on his bench at night, sometimes the only thing that gets him through is thinking about Thursdays and us volunteers. When the kids at Hope Haven run up and jump into my arms and hug me, I feel a joy and a love that I’ve never felt before. To be able to connect with another human being who is hurting and needs your help is one of the most powerful things you’ll ever experience. The love you give is always returned in a huge way.
Q. Would you ever consider starting your own charity?
A. I think down the road I would consider starting my own charity if I was in a place in my life where I could truly devote myself to it. But for now, I’m content continuing to grow and get more and more involved in the organizations I currently volunteer for. As long as I’m making a difference, that’s all that matters to me.
End of Interview
When I first decided to start writing a local everyday hero spotlight, I had no idea that two volunteers from Serve Charlotte’s Homeless would be nominated. I founded SCH in 2009, and since then, the organization has taken on a life of its own. Without dedicated individuals like Jeff and Rachel, the organization would not thrive and we would only be able to assist a limited number of homeless individuals. I am extremely proud of all of the volunteers who show up each week to help Charlotte’s Homeless Community.
-Nichole Jaworski, CBS Charlotte