In 2017, Ericka Spratley lost her first husband, Gregory, to cancer after he battled the disease for two years. The community of friends she had made as a volunteer for Girl Scouts came to her rescue. “My Girl Scout sisters wrapped their arms around me and my family during that difficult period,” she said. For 24 months, the Girl Scouts were there for Ericka and her four daughters, who are all Girl Scouts.
“When tragedy strikes, you have two options: you fold or you push through it,” said Ericka. “I chose to push through it because I had my daughters looking at me and the other 40 or so girls in my troop.”
Fellow Girl Scout volunteers had her back from the moment of her husband’s diagnosis to his passing. They even provided dinner for Ericka’s daughters when she was at the hospital and made sure special days like Christmas were celebrated. “On the day he passed, I sent an incoherent text to a few fellow leaders, and before I could blink, they were at my house and stayed with me the entire time.”
Let’s learn more about how volunteering helps our community and builds friendships that last a lifetime.
The Value of Giving Back
Blessing Bags and Food Drives
Ericka Spratley learned the value of giving to others as a young girl. “My granny and aunties always helped others in need, whether it was providing a meal, assisting with a bill, or finding a place for someone to stay,” said Ericka, who works full time and is active in the community as a volunteer.
She has been a Girl Scout leader for six years and is the lead volunteer for the women’s ministry program at Christ First Church in Suffolk. Her interest in volunteering came from a history of kindness from others, and she said she wants her daughters to know the value of giving back.
“I didn’t know what they did was volunteering because it wasn’t given a title,” Ericka said. “My family also received a lot from others and benefited from their kindness. Food pantries is how my family ate for a period of time, hand me downs is how my children were clothed, and Girl Scouts is how my children got to experience fun activities that I would normally not be able to afford. It was not until I was an adult that I learned that the Christmas gifts I received as a child from my father, who was incarcerated, were because of the kindness of volunteers.”
Ericka puts it in simple terms, “If there are those in need, there are others who can help.” She has found volunteering to be a selfless act because it is all about giving something few of us have a lot of—time. Taking time to give a little goes a long way.
“I think people hear ‘volunteer’ and automatically think ‘time away from family,’ but that’s not always the case,” Ericka said. Her family regularly gets involved in volunteer projects, and it has helped them grow closer. They have put together blessing bags and distributed them to families in need and have helped with food drives for Girl Scouts and their church.
Volunteer Hampton Roads
Honoring Outstanding Volunteers
Each year Volunteer Hampton Roads recognizes the region’s most outstanding volunteers based on their length of service, initiative, and impact on the community during National Volunteer Appreciation Month in April. This year Ericka and countless other volunteers will be honored for their significant contributions in our community.
Many other organizations salute their volunteer stars during this time as well. On April 22, Girl Scouts honors their volunteers on National Girl Scout Leader Day. No matter the organization, they are all celebrating the volunteer heroes who stayed committed throughout the pandemic and others who are now coming back.
“We had a marked decrease of volunteers as the country shut down and everything from classrooms to business meetings went virtual,” said Tracy Keller, CEO of Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast. “It made us think out of the box and work with volunteers in different ways and for volunteers to give service in different ways.”
“Things slowed down tremendously,” Ericka recalled. “I had to learn how to navigate life again. A lot of the volunteers I know were at a loss, and because the focus was on how to function in their everyday home life, volunteer work took a back seat. But...because there is always a lesson to learn in times of trials, I found my purpose and started to walk in it.”
While the country is not back to pre-COVID volunteer activity, the numbers are rising as more in-person opportunities become available. The challenge now is for nonprofits to continue to adjust to changing volunteering practices and preferences.
Sally Daniel: Making a Difference
Volunteers for Church and AAUW
Sally Daniel, a volunteer who lives in Virginia Beach, has adapted to the changes. She likes both volunteering in person and doing volunteer tasks online through Zoom or other platforms. Throughout the pandemic, Sally has stayed involved with a number of organizations that tackle social issues she cares about, such as women’s rights.
For 10+ years, she has been involved with the American Association of University Women’s Virginia Beach branch. During voter registration season, she puts in an average of 40 hours a month. She also volunteers at her church, Coastal Virginia Unitarian Universalist, and with the Norfolk Emergency Sheltering Team.
“I get a sense of purpose from volunteering,” said Sally, who serves as vice president of programming for her AAUW branch. “I believe that my actions help make this world a little bit better. I believe that [volunteering] is the price we should pay for living on this earth. I do feel I am needed, as are others. It makes me mad that women are still behind in salaries. It makes me mad that women still have to bear the brunt of harassment when they try to get ahead.”
“There are so many benefits of volunteering,” she said. “For me, it is the sense of belonging to a community with kindred spirits. It is being part of something that keeps me motivated and moving. It is believing in myself and the power that comes when I join others on issues that matter. It really is about making a difference in my life and the lives of others.”
Most will agree that it can be hard to find time to volunteer. However, the benefits can be many. You help people in need or help move causes forward, and both of those have a positive impact on the community. There are many opportunities, so it’s easy to find an organization whose goals align with yours. Plus, you get to make friends, learn new skills and, perhaps, advance your career.
Best of all, studies show that giving to others enhances your mental and physical health. It can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose. Cheers to volunteers!
Consider making a difference as a volunteer with the organizations mentioned in this article.
Coastal Unitarian Universalist:
Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast:
Volunteer Hampton Roads: