I got a chance to sit down recently with a Volunteer Leader named Ryan Sullivan and I have to say I was impressed. The Connecticut native leads one of the two Crisis Assistance Ministry projects, which for many of us is our first volunteer opportunity with Hands on Charlotte. A fun and energizing opportunity, Crisis Assistance Ministry provides clothing to Charlotte families free of charge, as well financial assistance to those in urgent need. It’s also not coincidentally in the same parking lot as Second Harvest Food Bank, another favorite of HOC volunteers. Ryan, a tall glass of water by any measure, began his tenure with Hands on Charlotte in 2006 and has been a Volunteer Leader since 2009. Aside from his work with Crisis Assistance Ministry, Ryan has also led events for our annual Hands on Charlotte Day and has for years been the Fundraising Chair for the Relay for Life of Ballantyne. There, he got to dress as Superman and lead another great group of HOC volunteers. (Why the tutu in the picture? Cancer doesn’t discriminate by gender.) In addition to this, the multi-talented man is part of the funny local improv comedy troupe Now Are the Foxes (check your old Saturday Night Live tapes if you’re missing the name reference there, sports fans).
Crisis Assistance Ministry is, as Ryan states, “A great volunteer project in that it lets participants immediately see the amount of work they’ve done. They can tell the impact they’re having then and there, and take something positive away from it.” I’m inclined to agree. The sorting and organizing of clothes, while not the most glamorous work, is still very fulfilling and—given the fun group of folks who show up for this event—you can have a great time working with a group towards a goal together. I strongly recommend it for beginning volunteers who want to see if the call to service is something they truly want to invest in. It’s also a good time for veterans who have some time to give to a very worthwhile cause.
An early life-changing injury to his brother gave Ryan his perspective on the world and the troubles that plague it. “You can’t solve every issue, but you should at least try to help address the ones you can,” he explains when I ask him why he volunteers so much of his time helping others. “I feel when you’ve been given blessings in life, it’s only right that you give back,” he mentions, as we begin talking about his life and motivations for volunteering. Engaged to a beautiful woman and employed by a financial planning software company that’s also very charitably inclined, Ryan certainly has a lot going for him. Having studied abroad and traveled the country extensively, he’s got a good view on the world. He also has, I can attest, a very healthy appetite for excellent BBQ and perhaps the best taste in music I’ve encountered among any volunteer I’ve met so far. We’ve been trading songs back and forth since meeting and giving each other new ideas on some genres.
Ryan and I found we had an unusual amount in common over the course of destroying our plates of BBQ, ribs, and pulled pork….ok, maybe the most obvious is we have large appetites and can put away the food. In addition, though, we’ve both kept busy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Whereas I sit on a scholarship committee, my good Ryan volunteers leading public speaking workshops for the Center for Leadership Development. When asked, Ryan stated, “It’s important to help set the volunteers and leaders of tomorrow off on the right foot today. The early college years are some of our most developmental and learning to find one’s voice early is truly a gift.” I couldn’t agree more. Very often we focus on younger children when it comes to instilling the importance of service, and while that’s clearly important we should not overlook the value of guiding our young adults along a positive path as well. Our last common trait is that, while we’re both very busy—and who isn’t these days—we find time to volunteer through HOC on a regular basis. Ryan and I both encourage people to use HOC’s easy online calendar to sign up at least once a month and to make volunteering a habit.
Ryan personifies exactly what Hands on Charlotte looks for in a Volunteer Leader. Well organized and possessed of a passion to give back, Ryan has been a real asset to our organization for a decade. We can only hope his love for giving back and the time he dedicates to helping others survives as he prepares to engage in one of the greatest challenges to free time known to man: Marriage. Congratulations, buddy – you two are going to be great!
- Ben Burton is a Hands On Charlotte Volunteer Leader for The Relatives project.