Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Vestal residents earn recognition from White House for flood-relief efforts

While they were sloshing through floodwater, hauling sodden garbage or making spreadsheets to disburse volunteers -- never once did volunteers Sharon Early and Bruce Barney, of Vestal, expect recognition.

But they got it -- from the White House, no less.

A certificate and letter from President Barack Obama were delivered by their pastors at First Presbyterian Church in Endicott last month.

This is the second year of the Martin Luther King Drum Major for Service Award, given to individuals who perform extraordinary volunteer acts of service with reliability and commitment that often go unnoticed. Its name comes from King's 1968 "Drum Major Instinct" sermon: "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness ... We all have the drum major instinct."

Sharon and Bruce's reaction: Thank you -- but why us, when so many deserved it?

About 175 people from the congregation pitched in, as well as hundreds of outside volunteers, said Rev. Jan Devine, who co-pastors with her husband, Tim. Together those volunteers put in about 9,000 hours power-washing walls and floors, maintaining and distributing equipment, preparing meals, housing guests, coordinating work teams and much more.
Several local faith-based and other nonprofit groups pitched in to help after the disaster, she pointed out.

Nonetheless, Sharon and Bruce assessed needs and designated volunteers, prompting the church to nominate them. Bruce, 50, and Sharon, 49, are both married with children. Still, they logged 10-hour-plus days, working continuously for three months straight.

Across the country, more than 2,000 awards highlighted activities such as helping homeless veterans gain access to services, starting afterschool programs for at-risk youth, and rebuilding the faith-based community in New Orleans, post-Katrina.

"There were recipients from SUNY Geneseo, Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, and eight recipients in Syracuse," said Kate Enos of the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington D.C.

The first phase of flood relief has essentially come to a close. Now begins the long-term phase of flood recovery-- rebuilding our community home by home, stated the nomination.

And that's the part about which Sharon and Bruce spoke most vehemently, diverting the spotlight from themselves to discussing the next wave of needs for volunteer laborers.

Needs have shifted, though. Now skilled hands are required to help with rebuilding flooded properties: electricians, plumbers, construction laborers, painters and others. While Sharon continues as unpaid staff in a building next door to the church -- the Monroe House, currently being converted to a hospitality house for incoming volunteers -- Bruce has been hired as Flood Recovery Project Manager by the Broome County Council of Churches.

Both Sharon and Bruce continue daily to earn their awards.

Neighbors columnist Valerie Zehl can be contacted at vzehl@gannett.com.

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