11/05/09 — Local family earns top state honor for volunteerism

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Local family earns top state honor for volunteerism

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on November 5, 2009 1:46 PM

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Faye Stone, deputy executive director with the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service with the governor's office, pins the Medallion Award on Grace Parrish.

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Plaques and the Medallion Award were presented at the volunteer awards ceremony Tuesday. Pictured from left: Sen. Don Davis, Faye Stone, the deputy executive director of the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, Capt. Jim Fleming, standing in for Capt. Jonathan Hutto, Martha Bryan, Roberto Mendoza, William Johnson, Master Sgt. Dean Parrish, Grace Parrish and Lauren Parrish and Master Sgt. Kathleen Parrish and Mayor Al King.

The Parrish family's experience with the Special Olympics started off as a one-time offer to volunteer.

Now, four years later, the Parrishes say their work with the athletes has been not only rewarding, but a lesson for their own lives as well -- an experience they would not trade.

And that caring earned them the Medallion Award, one of the state's highest awards for volunteerism, at a ceremony Tuesday at WAGES.

It did not take long for the Parrishes to decide to devote their time and energy to the Special Olympics.

"Once we started meeting the athletes, we learned that we were getting more out of it than they were," Master Sgt. Dean Parrish said. "I call the athletes my heroes because they battle every day of their lives.

"Sometimes when I've thought my life was bad or I'd have a rough week, we'd go to practice on the weekend and it would change. I've learned a lot about compassion from them and loving everyone."

He said his two daughters got involved with Special Olympics when he and wife, Master Sgt. Kathleen Parrish, needed help with practices.

"We try to teach them young that we're blessed in our lives day to day and there's nothing else we need in our lives," he said. "It's just time for us to give back."

He knew it was the right thing for his entire family when they went to the state games the first year they volunteered. They spent two evenings with the athletes.

"On the way home my 10-year-old daughter Grace commented that that was the best weekend of her life," Dean said. "We knew then that it was something we had to stay with."

And for Grace, although she was glad to receive the award, the reward is the friends she had made and the time she spends with her family.

"I like doing it with my family," she said. "I like spending time with the athletes. I don't care if I get any award; I just like doing it."

During practices she runs with the athletes and throws the softball.

Her 15-year-old sister, Lauren, helps by coordinating the running events and taking the athletes' times. But most of all, she's their cheering squad.

"I never thought that it would mean this much to me in the beginning," Lauren said. "The first year really opened my eyes, and after that, I wanted to keep on doing it.

"They don't judge anyone. They are so sweet to anyone. It's just amazing. I come home and feel good after every practice. They mean the world to me."

Kathleen said the family takes anywhere from 14 to 19 athletes from basic practice all the way through to the state games. And they do a lot of fundraising for the organization.

It's made her family closer to one another and also thankful for what they have.

"There are very few opportunities in our lives to be with people who love you unconditionally and have pure joy," she said. "Being around the Special Olympians, they have the most positive outlook. I walk away feeling like a better person."

Four other community members were also honored for their local volunteer work.

* Also receiving a plaque for volunteering with the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 45 was William Johnson, service office and chaplain.

In this position, he provides information to veterans to help with their VA claims. He has also been a volunteer driver with the group for nine years, logging more than 22,000 miles taking veterans to and from the VA hospital.

As chaplain, he visits sick and distressed veterans and helps with fundraising.

* Capt. Jonathan Hutto was recognized for his work with Stoney Creek Free Will Baptist Church as its youth staff leader. In this capacity, he leads worship services each month for more than 70 teenagers. He also organizes numerous activities for the youths of the church, including foreign travel, concert events and travel to various workshop and religious seminars around the country.

* Martha Bryan has worked with the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. for eight years as a board member, committee chairman, volunteer and advocate for the heart of the city of Goldsboro.

She works with staff to organize goals and seek out new downtown partners. She volunteers at nearly all of the 36 events held downtown each year.

* Also recognized was Roberto Mendoza with the Wayne County chapter of the American Red Cross. He is the disaster action team captain and responds to single-family fires. He also volunteers to teach CPR and first aid classes and is one of only two instructor trainers in the county.

As assistant fire chief of the Mar Mac Fire Department, he answers fire calls, and if there's damage, he puts on his Red Cross hat.

The speaker for the ceremony was last year's Medallion Award winner Louise Faison.

She said volunteering is not a hard job if you look at the meaning of the word, which is to do something of your own free will without expecting anything in return.

"It takes just one of us to make a difference in someone's life," she said.