By Scott Auer Big Canoe POA General Manager
t was May 18, 2018. My wife Cyndi and I drove through the gates for the ﬁrst time as property owners at Big Canoe. After the dust had settled – literally – from unpacking all our belongings and model trains, Cyndi started to get a bit homesick.
In our small town of Suwanee, Ga., Cyndi had been incredibly active as a volunteer with woman’s Bible study, the Gwinnett County Food Bank, and the Sugarloaf United Methodist Church leadership team among other organizations. She started looking for ways to plug into her new community, both inside and outside the gates. This proved hard and frustrating. There was no single source of information, and Big Canoe can be a bit intimidating when you ﬁrst arrive.
A bit discouraged, we joined a Dinner Eight event through the Big Canoe Chapel. And there, we had the pleasure of meeting Sue Merrick. Another new resident to Big Canoe, and a huge volunteer from her previous life in Texas, Sue had experienced some of the same frustrations.
Sue’s impressive streak of volunteering started when she was a teenage candy-strip-er in Baton Rouge, La., where her father was a professor at Louisiana State University. She earned a degree in social work at LSU, applying her skills to a variety of capacities at nursing homes, Child Protective Services, and an institution for the developmentally disabled. She also kept her hands in volunteering as a PTA president, a youth group counselor, and on the board of her kids’ preschool.
Interested in similarly giving to the community when she arrived in 2018, Sue found that she had to search far too many sources to get her volunteer bearings. With no central clearinghouse of listed opportunities in the area, she did what any resourceful self-starter would do: she spearheaded efforts with Leadership Big Canoe (LBC) classmates to research and ultimately start their own.
Sue and her team consulted with leaders of local organizations that enlisted volunteers. They evaluated the websites of groups that provided parallel resources, such as VolunteerMatch, All for Good, and Idealist. And they envisioned and ultimately tailored a site to ﬁt the needs of Big Canoe.
In February 2021, the Volunteer Big Canoe website (https://volbc.org/) was launched, sharing with Big Canoe property owners the array of volunteer opportunities that are organized by category of interest. Outside of Big Canoe in Pickens and Daw-son counties, volunteering can range from helping coordinate ﬂu shots with Jasper Pharmacy; building houses with Habitat for Humanity; or spending time with ailing patients in the Georgia Mountains Hospice in Jasper. Inside, opportunities include everything from food or coat drives; preparing meals and giving rides to the homebound through the Wellness Collaborative; and pitching in on the Big Canoe’s 50th-anniversary blowout in 2022.
While the site is up and running, its launch hit a major snag with the ongoing pandemic. The original plan was to formally unveil the project in September 2020, but the launch was delayed by changes in volunteer guidelines brought on by COVID-19 and in response to concerns of would-be volunteers.
The site is starting to get trafﬁc, Sue says, and organizations are helping to spread the word.
While Volunteer Big Canoe is packed with options for those interested, Sue
said that she looks forward to additional post-pandemic opportunities that will open up with organizations easing social-distancing protocols.
“I know that the Community Thrift Store in Jasper needs volunteers and I am a counselor over CARES (food bank in Jasper), which is looking at opening up,” Sue says. “As we get more and more people vaccinated and more people are comfortable going out, we’re hoping this is a good time to at least start rolling it out.”
In the true spirit of Volunteer Big Canoe, numerous LBC colleagues, including Diane LaCharite, and local web designer Liz Scherer have donated their time to ensure Volunteer Big Canoe succeeds. However, Sue added that the organization can still use as many as three more volunteers to help promote the website and to sign up more organizations to get listed.
“Volunteer Big Canoe is something
I am proud of – and I’m relieved that it’s ﬁnally out,” Sue says. “I am happy there will be a resource that makes it easy for our community to do what we do best, and that’s helping other people.”
If you have interest in paying it forward in our community, check out the numerous opportunities listed on Volunteer Big Canoe or contact the organization directly through their website at https://volbc.org/
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