Editor’s note: Deerfield-Windsor School senior Beverly Guillebeau wrote this essay as part of her entry in the Exchange Club of Albany’s “Youth of the Year” contest, which was based on students’ academic s, achievements, community service and essay on the theme, “Sharing a Shining Light on Volunteerism.” Guillebeau won first place in the contest and won a $500 college scholarship.
During the past four years of high school, I have been encouraged to be an active part of my school and local community and give back in as many ways as possible. Striving to embrace all aspects of my high school experience, most of my volunteering has been associated with the school.
As a varsity football cheerleader and varsity basketball danceline member, I have supported the spirit of my school not only at pep rallies, football games, and basketball games but also at youth clinics. During these cheerleading and danceline clinics, I have shared my passions with young girls, embedding in them a similar drive to press towards their goals and practice the activities they love most. Moreover, these clinics provided me with an opportunity to mentor the students of my school and act as a role model for them. As a student council member, I have organized the homecoming events, chaired fundraising events, and encouraged student participation. In addition, this role provided an opportunity to introduce and welcome new families into the school community through the new student breakfasts and open houses. I also encouraged the school community to be active through the student council sponsored toy drives with the support of Toys for Tots.
Similarly, understanding the importance of the local community, I have given back by volunteering at Lee County Primary School, the local YMCA, and my church. Yet none of these experiences has lit my community and personal character as brightly as the rewarding experiences I had during the Christmas holidays of my junior year: the honor of sponsoring, organizing, and volunteering at an American Red Cross Blood Drive in honor of Wyatt Mitchell, a cancer patient and member of my school, church, and local community. My sister joined me in coordinating this event, and all I can say is “WOW! What a way to begin the holiday season!”
To offer some background information, Wyatt was an amazing young man who was well respected in our church and community overall; he truly demonstrated the shining light of volunteerism through his ministry work and active role in YoungLife. His family has attended my church for as long as I can remember, and he graduated from Deerfield-Windsor School seven years before me. I remember his joyous face walking the halls, always laughing and making even the most awkward of us middle school students feel comfortable and welcome. Shortly after graduation, a tumor was found near his jaw; it was synovial cell sarcoma.
After many treatments, he thought he was cancer free. Then, in the spring of 2009, three years after the initial incident, Wyatt learned the cancer was back. Newly engaged, he and his fiancé Abby rushed the wedding, and the newlyweds moved to Houston so that Wyatt could begin treatment at MD Anderson. Wyatt went through six months of treatments, during which time he received numerous blood transfusions. Abby spoke of the way these blood transfusions took Wyatt from unable to move to awake and lively; she said that the donated blood was vital to his survival. Wyatt finished his final treatment in November, and on Dec. 5, Wyatt and Abby packed-up their bags and moved back to South Georgia.
Striving to aid our community and honor Wyatt and his family, my sister and I decided to hold a blood drive in Wyatt’s honor. I embraced the opportunity by donating all of my time, resources, and energy to produce a successful drive, one that would give both emotional and physical life to the community and would illustrate the extensive love and support of Wyatt during the challenging time. I acted as the Albany liaison and was thrilled when the word spread rapidly throughout the area. Though I was hoping for a good turnout, I never could have anticipated the magnitude of donors that came that day. Five minutes before the blood drive was scheduled to begin, we had seven people in line. The crowd continued relentlessly throughout the day. As Wyatt and his family visited with the donors throughout much of the day, I was thrilled for them to see this visible display of love and support for the Mitchell family. Although the American Red Cross was unprepared to accommodate the large number of donors and, thus, we had to turn some people away, we still more than doubled our goal of 30 blood units.
Sponsoring and organizing this drive not only to support Wyatt but also to aid our community was both humbling and rewarding. It was apparent that this drive was a better “Welcome Home” present for Wyatt than any material item could have ever been. Many told me how honored they were to be part of this event, and I believe this drive served as a great example of how a community can truly support and uplift an individual and family when they need it most — the chief goal of volunteering.
A few months ago, Wyatt lost his battle to cancer, yet his light within the community has been passed on as young students like myself work to carry his torch in uplifting and aiding the community. Throughout the entire process, both Wyatt and Abby displayed unyielding faith and an amazing sense of humor; they truly inspired the community. Many thanked my sister and me for grasping the true meaning of the holiday season that day by serving someone else. Yet I must say that the joy and gratitude I received from being a part of that drive has lasted far beyond that holiday season; it encourages me to remain an active member of my community, both now and in the future, and to follow in Wyatt’s footsteps and share the shining light of volunteerism.