Volunteer of the Month: Dana DePew
Dana DePew’s face is a happy, familiar, and welcome one around the halls and rooms of Jessie’s Place. The Hewitt-Trussville High School nurse and student leadership program sponsor has been volunteering at the shelter for just shy of a decade and her relentless love for the Mission has helped lead countless others to follow in her footsteps.
“I have a heart for children,” she said with a joyful laugh while resting the palm of her hand over her heart. “I always look for a way to work with children.”
DePew began volunteering at Jessie’s Place with her own children in 2008. When she assumed responsibility of the high school’s leadership program in 2009, the shelter became an obvious choice for service involvement.
“We will sometimes do events with the Boys & Girls Club and recently started working some with Independence Place, which is an adult special needs program in Trussville,” DePew said. “Children in need and special needs are two groups very close to my heart, but Jessie’s Place is where we volunteer on a regular basis.”
In the beginning, the program hosted Christmas community service projects at Camp Cullman where the women and children enjoyed parties complete with dancing, food, and presents.
Over the years, the leadership program exploded from 40 members to 120 and the group’s involvement with Jessie’s Place was scaled down to weekly volunteer efforts to keep personnel more manageable. The group now provides an hour of childcare every Tuesday evening so the mothers have time to focus on other activities ranging from Bible study to laundry.
The crew has also volunteered to wrap Christmas presents for the children, provided cakes for birthday parties, and even orchestrated special events.
“Our leadership program was approached by Chick-fil-A to participate in a program called Leader Academy,” Depew said. “It’s a great, nation-wide program all about servant-leadership, which is what our program is trying be about. Sometimes the students don’t understand how leadership and service go together when they sign up for the volunteer hours, but in reality, leadership is all about service. That’s all it is!”
Individuals in DePew’s group can apply for placement on what she calls a Leadership Team, a smaller group of volunteers that helps direct the program’s involvement. This team also represents the school in the Leader Academy.
“The Academy organizes monthly meetings that culminate in a community service impact project,” DePew said. “The students come up with ideas for the project and apply for grant money.”
This year she proposed an Easter celebration for Jessie’s Place. The Leadership Team liked that idea and was later awarded $1,000 from Chick-fil-A to help make it a reality.
The experience at Jessie’s Place has led several students to continue volunteering even after their program-required hours have been fulfilled. “They get exposed to service and then they keep coming back,” DePew said with a proud grin. “They love it.”
The program’s efforts have even reached the desks of judges in the Trussville area and low-risk youth in need of community service hours are often sent DePew’s way and plugged into the work at Jessie’s Place.
She admits that volunteering isn’t always easy. “Life gets difficult and there may be other things you really need to do,” she stressed. “It never fails though, when I come on those nights something happens and I’m so glad I’m here for it.”
DePew hopes that the Hewitt-Trussville students learn more than just servant-leadership in their time with the program.
“I want them to understand how important it is to be kind to people,” she emphasized. “I want them to value respect for others and decency. I want them to be good people and good parents. You have to live out what you believe in.”