Dick Arnold – The Legacy of Volunteers: NRV Leading Lights

Dick Arnold

  Dick Arnold


The horrific shooting events of April 16, 2007 on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, made our community acutely aware of life’s fragile nature, of how precious our loved ones are, and of the importance of volunteers.

The seemingly endless procession of first responders, students and staff, counselors, and a huge number of ordinary citizens performing extraordinary volunteer service, inspired the Virginia Tech German Club Alumni Foundation, a 125-year-old service/leadership fraternal organization, to develop a way to recognize and promote volunteerism. In an effort to provide a permanent memorial to the victims, New River Valley Leading Lights was formed. Note: the New River Valley (NRV) is a region in southwest Virginia composed of four counties and one city in the Blacksburg area.

NRV Leading Lights is led by a board of directors composed of leaders in local foundations, churches, civic organizations, nonprofits, universities, and businesses. NRV Leading Lights has the following mission: To recognize volunteers from all sectors in the New River Valley who are making community-changing impacts and serving as a model to inspire others.

During its eight-year existence, almost 400 volunteers have been honored at an annual banquet and $40,000 has been donated* to our local communities via the charity of choice of the nine high school, nine collegiate and 28 general public award winners. These volunteers have been highlighted throughout the year via newspaper articles and our website and Facebook postings.

When we asked ourselves just how important volunteerism was to the NRV, we found the annual economic impact was an astounding $50.7 million. This is calculated based on our population of 180,000, 25% of whom we estimate volunteer, multiplied by the median 50 hours donated, multiplied by the national average value of volunteer time of $22.55/hour.

More importantly, suppose we imagine that one day, all volunteers simply didn’t show up. What would our communities do? What basic needs would go unmet? What opportunities to grow, learn, and thrive would be lost? The truth is that we likely cross paths with volunteers one or more times a day, no matter where we are. Volunteers, young and old, have an enormous impact on the health and well-being of our communities!

  • Volunteers deliver critical services as EMTs and fire fighters, Red Cross workers, delivering meals to homebound seniors, or manning phone lines at domestic violence and sexual assault centers.
  • Volunteers tutor, teach, mentor, coach, lead and support young people through schools, Scouting, Big Brothers Big Sisters, 4H, Young Life, science fairs, sports, and more.
  • Volunteers serve the medical field by educating us on health and safety, donating human organs, providing services at dental and medical clinics, and in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. They also raise funds for research into diseases via things like Relay for Life, athletic events, and benefit auctions.
  • Volunteers aid animals through rescue shelters and humane societies, adoptions, veterinary expertise and wildlife rehabilitation centers.
  • Volunteers improve our culture at libraries, art centers, theaters, music and symphonies, museums, and historical societies.
  • Volunteers come to our aid in emergency situations such as fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, by providing shelter, food and clothing, rebuilding homes and schools, and repairing infrastructure.
  • Volunteers meet the needs of the less fortunate by donating and manning food and clothing banks, building homes, helping the homeless, serving at such facilities as the Montgomery County Christmas Store, and caring for our veterans and senior citizens.

We are thankful and humbled by their generosity of spirit and compassion for our fellow human beings here in the New River Valley, and we are committed to continuing to seek, honor and promote these valuable volunteers.

*Editor’s Note: By the completion of the virtual celebration of Neighbors Helping Neighbors in October 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, NRV Leading Lights had distributed $66,800 to nonprofit organizations in the region.

Dick Arnold is a consultant for the United Methodist Church’s Global Ministries, where he developed and directs the In Mission Together partnership program in nine Eastern European and Balkan countries. Prior to that, he held engineering, public affairs/government relations and management positions with large corporations. Dick helped found NRV Leading Lights and serves as the current president. He serves, or has served, on Boards of Directors and in leadership positions as a volunteer with numerous trade associations, nonprofit organizations and his church. www.leadinglightsnrv.org

This article is reprinted from the Legacy Special Edition of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!

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