After retiring from a career as a nurse, Betty Ahern chose to continue giving back to her community.
Working as a volunteer with Offender Aid and Restoration, she has taught health-awareness and other courses to more than 900 locally incarcerated individuals, helping them prepare to maintain their health upon release.
Among those Ahern has focused on have been incarcerees with HIV, AIDS and communicable diseases, who are at particular health risk.
Her work has had a positive impact not only on those she has touched, but Ahern herself. “You develop a sense of family, not only with your clients but with your co-volunteers. It’s really quite remarkable,” she said.
For her efforts, Ahern received the RSVP Award, honoring an Arlington senior for volunteer activities, at the first annual “Arlington Cares” celebration of volunteerism, held July 25 and sponsored by Volunteer Arlington.
(“RSVP,” in this case, stands for the Retired Service Volunteer Program of Northern Virginia, which connects those age 55 and older to non-profits that need their support. “’Fifty-five and older’ – I love that euphemism,” Ahern chuckled.)
Ahern is a community “rock star” for her service, said Betsy Frantz, CEO of the Leadership Center for Excellence, which a year ago took over volunteer-support efforts from the Arlington County government.
The age of honorees spanned a half-century; the youngest, Molly Byrne, was presented with the Youth Volunteer Service Award for her work with the therapeutic-recreation program at the Langston-Brown Community Center.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity,” Byrne said of volunteering. “I’ve so loved the past three years; I truly can’t wait for many more.”
The awards celebration, which drew about 200 people to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association conference center in Ballston, was a chance to celebrate the (almost) one-year anniversary of Volunteer Arlington’s transition to a community-based program, as well as laud those who are aiding social-safety-net organizations countywide.
“It’s been an amazing year,” Frantz said. “We are a better community because of the non-profits. It’s the underpinning of all healthy communities.”
Volunteer Arlington is overseen by Lisa Fikes, who said the local effort has been aided during its transition year by support from neighboring Volunteer Fairfax and Volunteer Alexandria. Those organizations “have been so supportive of our mission,” she said.
Among those on hand to share in support of volunteerism were County Manager Mark Schwartz, County Board members Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey, and a host of advocates, including Rev. Dr. Leonard Hamlin Sr. of Macedonia Baptist Church.
“I cannot begin to express how excited I am about the possibilities of what can take place in the years to come,” Hamlin said. “I’ve been energized. What I really see is possibilities.”
Cristol, the County Board’s vice chairman, said after the event that volunteerism is an important component to making Arlington the place it is. “Government actually can’t build a community,” she said.
Also taking home awards during the evening were Sara Santner, who volunteers teaching citizenship classes to immigrants through the county government. So, too, did the volunteer corps at PRS CrisisLink, which provides 16,000 hours of service annual to support those going through crises.
Bloomberg BNA was honored for its ongoing partnership with the Arlington Food Assistance Center.
“AFAC plays such an important role in the community,” said Jean Lockhart, chief of staff of Bloomberg. “Our employees are truly able to have an impact where they live and work.”
The event also paid homage to the scores of county residents who donated more than 100 hours of service volunteering over the past year. Combined, that contingent contributed more than 37,000 hours.
Those who might still be doubtful about the importance of giving back should just speak with volunteers, Fikes said.
“Ask them how they do what they do, what energizes them,” she said. “There is power to giving to others, power in caring. There’s magic that happens when a need is filled.”
Lead sponsors for the July 25 event were Marymount University and the Shooshan Co.