“I could go play tennis, or I could go eat lunch, but I get a much better feeling helping the kids,” says neighborhood resident and volunteer Mary Jo Poscharsky.
Volunteering usually isn’t glamorous. It involves a dedication and determination we don’t see enough of these days. The rewards for a volunteering job well done often are no more than smiles, thank-you notes and pats on the back, rather than paychecks, retirement plans or holiday bonuses.
And the volunteers who sacrifice time that could be spent on the golf course, in front of the television or surfing the Internet don’t view their selfless labor as a sacrifice at all.
It is part of them, they say, defining who and what they are.
Joanie Williams was a frightened young mother when her then-two-year-old son, Kirk, was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect.
“At the time, heart surgery was very rare,” Williams says.
“I was very afraid, because what they did (rarely) then, they do quite frequently now.
“When it’s your child, everything is very critical, so I started working at the hospital (after the diagnosis) to find out as much as possible.”
Three years after the initial diagnosis, the surgery on Williams’ son was successfully performed. Now 37, Kirk is a happily married father.
But the story doesn’t end there.
To Williams, no price tag could be placed on her son’s life. She believes the doctors, nurses and staff at Children’s Medical Center gave her son life, so for the past 35 years, she has been giving back as a regular volunteer at the hospital.
“Joanie has an unbelievably kind and giving spirit,” says George Farr, president of Children’s.
“She’s committed to children, and that’s where it starts.”
Williams knows every nook and cranny of the hospital, having served in nearly every possible volunteer capacity. Such volunteer longevity is rare, but Children’s has become as much a part of Williams’ life as waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night.
“Volunteering gets in your blood,” she says. “I’m just paying back the hospital, and I enjoy it.”
“It’s a special place, and you see miracles happen there every day.”
Her family’s experience helps Williams understand what parents and their children are going through in the hospital.
“Kids and parents need special attention that a nurse and doctor can’t give,” says the longtime Lake Highlands resident.
“I know what they are going through, and I can relate.”
Like clockwork, Williams is at the hospital every Monday doing whatever is asked of her. She also has been an integral part of the Children’s Medical Center Volunteer Advisory Board as one of the group’s founders and its first president.
“She’s done a whole host of things over the years,” says Ann Gabel, a Children’s volunteer coordinator.
“She’s one of the greatest advocates we have.”
Although Williams has been volunteering at Children’s since John F. Kennedy was president, she doesn’t foresee her “payback” ending anytime soon.
“It’s made a difference in my life by giving something to other people,” Joanie says.
“I’ll work at Children’s as long as they need me.”
Dressed For Success
Misconception about school district demographics threatened to terminally ground the project.
But after some cajoling and prodding, Mary Jo Poscharsky and a group of far-sighted RISD Council of PTA members convinced their peers the RISD Clothes Closet was sorely needed.
The year was 1986, and thanks to perseverance on the part of its volunteers, the Clothes Closet is a school district fixture.
RISD traditionally has been thought of as a wealthy school district. And while most district families have little trouble providing necessities such as clothing for their children, there are always families that cannot adequately clothe their children.
That’s where the Clothes Closet helps.
“It allows (less fortunate) kids to have things like their friends have,” says RISD school board trustee Bettye Stripling, who helped found the Clothes Closet.
And according to Stripling, no one has worked harder on the Clothes Closet than Mary Jo Poscharsky.
“She’s made it work tremendously well,” Stripling says. “She’s moved it to a different, more efficient plane so more families can be helped and more kids can use it.”
A number of obstacles have been tossed in the project’s path, most notably funding. The district doesn’t fund the project, but does provide a small office space and telephone service at no charge.
Securing clothing and other donations is up to Poscharsky and other volunteers. Poscharsky says the closet depends on support and cooperation from RISD member schools and their PTAs.
“It’s not the one person who comes out here routinely (who makes the project work),” Poscharsky says. “It’s the hundreds who come out here periodically.”
Counselors at each RISD school approve and refer needy families to the closet, where each family can receive a week’s worth of school clothing at no charge. Barring extenuating circumstances, a family can visit the closet only once each school year. Last year, the Closet helped 974 students at a cost of about $10 each.
“This is the neatest thing I’ve ever done because it gets right to the people,” Poscharsky says.
“I get to see positive reactions from children, and I know it’s making a difference.
“They have a choice (the students pick out their own clothes) and feel like they have a say in what’s going on.”
“(Once they’re outfitted), it’s real positive and real interesting to see the change in their demeanor.”
On A Mission
James Pruitt has a simple explanation for why he is so devoted to helping children.
“It (helping children) is my calling,” says Pruitt, who serves as a youth minister at New Mount Zion Baptist Church.
“That’s what the Lord told me to do.”
Working for Guaranty Federal Bank, where he has been an acquisition specialist since 1987, has allowed Pruitt to further assist children. In 1991, Guaranty joined several other area businesses and churches in the Adopt-A-Caseworker program, a service that lends a helping hand to caseworkers at the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.
The caseworkers, overwhelmed by a continuous stream of child abuse and negligence victims, found themselves struggling to provide necessary resources like food, toys and clothing to serve their child clients.
That’s where the Adopt-A-Caseworker program helps.
Over the years, Pruitt has tirelessly made posters and flyers to advertise program activities, asked Guaranty’s management for monetary assistance, collected and delivered donations, arranged holiday dinners and put together Halloween bags and Easter baskets.
“If it hadn’t been for him, we wouldn’t have been able to continue the program on its present course,” says neighborhood resident Janie Chrisenberry, human resources administrator for Guaranty’s North Texas operations.
“He doesn’t really ask for anyone to toot his horn. He just does it because it’s a good cause. You know he’s every bit as busy as you are, but he still has time to help other people.”
And perhaps no one appreciates Pruitt’s efforts more than the caseworkers he’s helping.
“He’s very open to what we suggest and always willing to roll up his sleeves,” says caseworker Karen Nixon.
“It’s taken such a load off me knowing he’s there and the program’s there.”
“Sometimes when I’m having a bad day, it’s nice to remember that we have people like him in the community helping us.”