Volunteer of the Week: Liz Johnson believes in putting passion into community

Published 10:47 am Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Volunteer of the week is Liz Johnson, who is from Yazoo City. When Johnson was a little girl, her dad’s career took her family to New Orleans and then to  Houston. She graduated from Southern Methodist University with a degree in journalism. Eventually, she returned to the Magnolia State and worked at International Paper’s Vicksburg Mill as their communications manager.

 How did your volunteering for United Way begin?

For many years in Houston, I served as a United Way corporate campaign coordinator for several companies where I worked. It’s a terrific role because you learn so much about how the United Way serves the community through a diverse network of agencies and, in turn, you learn about the agencies by volunteering with them through the Day of Caring and other volunteer activities.

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 How long have you been volunteering with United Way?

When I began working at Vicksburg Mill almost two years ago, the first community outreach call I made was to Michele Connelly, executive director at the United Way of West Central Mississippi. Our mill has been a long-time United Way supporter and I wanted to establish a personal connection. By Christmas, then-board president Lynn Foley asked me to join the board of directors. Today, I proudly serve on the executive committee of the board.

What is your favorite memory while volunteering for United Way?

Last year, I was able to link together the community service missions of International Paper and the United Way of West Central Mississippi. After the March 2023 tornado ripped apart our neighbors in Sharkey and Issaquena counties, our United Way not only raised $1.3 million for disaster relief but also directed a massive amount of donations. The wish list included feminine care products; Vicksburg Mill donated thousands of items and needed a truck and a van to deliver the supplies to Rolling Fork. It was a perfect alignment of my company’s philanthropy and the United Way’s dedication to helping our community.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?

Find a way to put together your passion with a community need. Do you love cats and dogs? Do you have a book you just can’t put down? Call the animal shelter and offer to read to the animals – cats and dogs love that attention. Or, if kitties and puppies make you sneeze, you can read to an elementary school. The United Way has a terrific reading program for third-grade students. Combining your interests or hobbies with a community need is an excellent way to go.

What are some of your tasks while volunteering with United Way?

Board members help raise money, evaluate programs and invest money raised during the annual campaign to support our community. It’s essential to work, but the real joy is going into the community to volunteer: Getting your hands dirty pulling weeds and planting flowers, painting the rec room at a community center or helping young people learn how to interview for a job.

 What have you learned from volunteering?

Volunteering is the most heart-affirming activity. It costs you nothing, yet you receive so much in return for your time. For 12 years in Houston, I participated in a two-day bike ride to raise money for multiple sclerosis. One year, in the middle of the second day, I let out a loud groan as I got back on my bike after a rest stop. A lady on the side of the road, cheering us on, yelled “That’s OK, you can do it.” I looked back to respond with a hearty thank you and saw that she was in a wheelchair. This lady who was cheering on all these cyclists has MS. We all were helping her by raising money and she was helping us by being there. And that’s what I mean by volunteering is a heart-affirming activity.

How can someone else who might be interested in volunteering with United Way get involved?

Check with your employer to see if the company has an existing relationship with United Way or one of its agencies. If not, you could create a team-building event and volunteer at an agency. They would love to have you.