Season of Wishes: Organizations say your help is needed to make a difference in community

Published 12:55 am Sunday, November 27, 2016

NATCHEZ — In one of the poorest states in the nation, the need for local organizations to help the less fortunate is great.

A small army of area volunteers ensures the doors of those organizations stay open, and the leaders of those nonprofits say volunteers are vital to the continuation of services to those in need.

Over the next several weeks, The Natchez Democrat will feature many of these nonprofit organizations in a series titled Season of Wishes. Each article will detail the efforts of charitable organizations in the area, and offer information on how you can help.

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At Habitat for Humanity, volunteers paint, caulk windows, install roofing and complete a myriad of other tasks required to build a house from the ground up. The national Habitat organization, which has a local chapter, partners with future and current homeowners to build affordable housing for low-income families.

Will Warren has been a Habitat volunteer for approximately four years and lends his time for any number of construction jobs for which he is needed. Warren joined Habitat’s efforts after seeing the work of longtime friend Duncan McFarlane, secretary to the local Habitat board.

“I have so much respect for Duncan, and he does so much around this town, and I decided it was time for me to get out there and help him.”

Warren remained a Habitat volunteer after finding he enjoyed the friendship and fellowship he found among other volunteers while building houses.

“These are all good people, and they all like to do things for others, and it’s a blessing to be around those people doing those sorts of things,” he said.

The joy of helping families attain their dreams of owning houses has also inspired Warren to stay an active volunteer.

“We just recently had the ceremony to turn the home over to the family of the last home we built, and it’s just a blessing to have seen that young lady with her own children and how they were so happy,” Warren said.

Warren and his wife returned to Natchez eight or nine years ago after Warren lived away from his hometown for 47 years. Warren said he was glad to see that generosity has a strong foothold in the community.

“I was so proud of people who come out and do volunteer work and help other people and that those people are part of our community, doing things that we should be doing for each other,” Warren said. “It makes me proud to be a part of Natchez.”

McFarlane said Habitat, as well as other nonprofits, is almost solely dependent on volunteers.

“The whole concept behind Habitat is to build a house with volunteer labor, so we hold the construction costs down, and then we can sell at a reasonable price so that the family can afford it,” he said. “We have been blessed with volunteer groups from churches, service clubs, high schools, colleges, and it’s just critical that we are able to depend on them.

“Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, but we give a higher percentage of our income than any other state. We give our time, as well as our money. We just enjoy helping other people. … People simply enjoy helping those less fortunate.”

Some of the less fortunate in the community have four legs and fur. They also depend on volunteers at the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society to ensure they stay fed and in a warm bed, and hopefully find a new, adoptive home.

Heather Calhoun-Kearney has been volunteering at the humane society shelter for nearly a year. She works in the front office, answering the phone, processing adoptions and showing animals to potential owners.

Her volunteer time ensures a staff member can spend time completing other tasks around the shelter such as tending to the animals.

“If I can spend an hour answering the phones, then that gives a staff member who is trained to medicate or care for the animals time to do that,” Calhoun-Kearney said.

Service to the humane society is more than just serving animals, Calhoun-Kearney said.

“You also really get to help people,” she said. “There are folks who get in a bad situation and can no longer keep an animal, and when we’re able to get that animal in there … it’s really, really satisfying to help those people.”

The time humane society volunteers contribute to shelter operations is invaluable, NACHS Director of Operations Sarah Wees said.

Even volunteers who are not hands-on at the shelter — such as those who foster animals until they are adopted — are crucial to the humane society.

“It’s extremely important,” she said. “It helps us to have that other resource. … It saves us money. It saves us time. Our volunteers are invaluable.”

The continued support of the humane society and other area nonprofits says a great deal about the community, Wees said.

“It says that Natchez is a philanthropic community,” she said. “They understand the importance of volunteers and the need to volunteer. The fact that such a small community can support so many nonprofits is wonderful. It says a lot about the people who live here.”