Walkers, joggers, bike riders and playground goers on the Cleveland Bradley County Greenway Thursday evening may have found a respite from the heat compliments of the Distinguished Young Women.
The 24 ladies and (has-been) volunteers lined up beside the pavilion off Raider Drive in their red shirts before going off to find those in need of a cool, refreshing bottle of water.
The event was the third service the DYW contestants have been a part of since they joined the competition at the state level.
The first project found the contestants tying no-sew blankets for the residents of Garden Plaza weeks before they came to Cleveland.
The second involved a lot of ice cream, performances and laughing at the annual Garden Plaza social Tuesday night.
The third took the girls out of their comfort zone in order to provide water for individuals on the Greenway.
Co-chairs Traci Fant and Nikki Wilks agreed volunteering is an integral component of the Distinguished Young Women scholarship program.
“We want them to see this isn’t just a week for them to get spoiled or for them to win a lot of money in scholarships,” Wilks said “It is a week they have to give back to the community that is really investing in them.”
Added Fant, “And they are exhausted, so it is that sense of ‘We really want to go home.’ When you are the most tired is when you need to volunteer.
“It is teaching them at a very young age that volunteer time is not [only] when you are rested and everything is going well.”
The community service project occurred after hours of practice, thank-you notes, interviews and choreography routines.
Despite the workload, the girls appeared to be in bright spirits.
Tennessee’s 2014 DYW first alternate Kalah Vance pointed out volunteer service is an opportunity for anyone to give back to the community that “gives so much to you.”
Added Vance, “It is almost like the opposite of peer pressure, but in a positive way. When your peers see you in masses giving back, it encourages others to do the same.”
Each girl present expressed joy at the opportunity to serve alongside their newfound friends.
“I really liked [going to] Garden Plaza,” contestant Peyton Wilson said. “I met so many people there that I probably would not have met otherwise. It is nice to know that we are not only helping them, but they are also teaching us a lot.”
Vance agreed and said the experience was an “eye-opener.” She pointed out today’s generation should be grateful for everything previous generations accomplished to establish what is enjoyed today.
The Distinguished Young Women program also has an underlying reason for encouraging the ladies to pursue volunteer opportunities: all work completed at the state and local level is 100 percent volunteer driven.
Contestants Charnae Hines and Hannah Reese agreed volunteer activities help raise awareness of the program in the various communities.
“Especially coming from a program standpoint, we are very blessed to be here,” Reese said. “When people see us, I think it would get them interested in the program...[and] keep the program going because such marvelous work is being done here.”
The competition portion of the program will take place today and Saturday evening at Lee University’s Dixon Center. Tickets are available at Perry’s Petals on Keith Street.