The United Way Volunteer Center of Greater Chattanooga affirmed James Kwee exemplifies all the enviable qualities a youth volunteer should posess: a sense of dedication to servcie, the willingness and energy to take on responsibility on behalf of the needy, and a positvie attitude to help motivate others. He was recently selected as the recipient of the Youth Volunteer of the Year Award. His meritorious work included spearheading a local initiative to start a Cheerful Givers pilot program in Chattanooga. Cheerful Givers, a non-profit organization based in Minnesota, provides birthday gift bags for children living in homeless shelter whose special day would otherwise go unacknowledged. The program can be replicated in other communities. To date, the organization has provided 300,000 gift bags to needy children. In the following interview, James discusses his motivation for being a volunteer, and how volunteering has enriched his life. For those who thrive on the intrinsic value and rewards of reaching out to those less fortunate, Jame’s insights will clarify how productive volunteer work can be.
Tell us something about a key person/founder behind the
group/organization- you volunteer for, what did they do before, what was their motivation, their other interests in recruiting you as a volunteer?
Well, ultimately, there is the founder, Robin Maynard Steele to thank. She was the person who first thought of the idea and took action, upon touring a food shelf without any birthday gifts for children. What are you trying to achieve via volunteering? Why is this important to you?
I think volunteering is all about being able to get involved in the community and be able to help out and give back. I just want to be able to make a difference in people or their lives, no matter how small or seemingly trivial the difference may be. Sometimes it’s just about being someone’s friend and offering them support and just being a positive influence on them—letting them know there are people out there that care. That’s really important to me and what I ultimately want to achieve. Being able to be a positive role model to children and making them smile and laugh is also an amazing feeling. For me, personally, Karen Kitchel, the president of Cheerful Givers, has been a big factor and driving force of why I volunteer with Cheerful Givers. I have yet to meet her, but she’s always been an email away from me. Whenever I had questions or comments, she would always respond back extremely quickly. I feel that he is truly there for the volunteers and takes the time to personally connect with them. Also, a big deciding factor in my volunteering with Cheerful Givers was their birthday gift mission; knowing that I would have an excuse to shop in toy stores was a big plus. If you could have anyone in to help, who would it be (famous, or
someone you know)?
The first person that comes to my mind is Angelina Jolie. I think she’s a beautiful, amazing actress and her humanitarian efforts and charity work are very admirable. She’s a great example to the rest of Hollywood. I would love to have her help out in the Cheerful Givers’ cause because it would be sure to gather a lot of publicity and media attention for us, which would be a huge help in spreading the word and getting our message across the nation. Is there anything unique to how you are doing things? What’s your approach?
I’m not really sure that I’m exceptionally unique in the way I do things. I try to get the word out and gain publicity for Cheerful Givers as much as possible. With birthday bags, we will sometimes do themes with them. I know recently we had a pirate themed bag. The gift bag was shaped like a treasure chest and inside, a pirate toy and many other pirate themed goodies. Another cool one that comes to mind is Thomas the Train. We had a Thomas bag, and inside a big Thomas stuffed toy (Almost said animal, but then remembered he’s a train), Thomas book, Thomas birthday card (for the parents to sign and give to their child), and other things. I think it’s really fun to do themes with bags and we try to whenever it’s possible. We also make sure the gifts look nice—like something we would give a friend or acquaintance. Tell us a key frustration working in your field?
Well, I’m a student so I don’t really work in a career field, so I’ll assume you’re talking about my volunteering. There really aren’t many (if any) frustrations working/volunteering with Cheerful Givers, except for maybe finding boxes to transport the birthday bags. In my other volunteering activities there are a few frustrations, but I won’t go into them as to keep this mainly about my volunteer work with Cheerful Givers. Tell us something about you outside of volunteer work.
I love hockey. Here in the South, that easily makes me a minority. I’ve been playing inline (or roller) hockey since I was about 7. I’m also a big fan of politics. I love debates, although the bad thing with political debates (often escalating into an argument) is that neither side ever admits defeat. Where are you located? Geographically, what area(s) do you cover/help?
I am located in Chattanooga, TN. (Technically, I live in Rocky Face, Georgia, but I practically live in Chattanooga and consider myself a Chattanoogan.) Our Cheerful Gives pilot program here covers the Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN areas, as well as Northwest Georgia.
Explain two things you really need (other than cash). For Cheerful Givers, I would love more national publicity. I would be very excited to see it spread nationally and become well-known across the country. I would also love for my pilot program here in Chattanooga, to increase its participating charity list. I would love to have a good 15-20 charities participating in it. Right now, I think we are trying to find 10 by the end of the year. For more information,visit Cheerful Givers online:http://www.cheerfulgivers.org