Volunteer of the Year Award

Volunteer of the Year Award
Published in Dayton Daily News on September 30, 2015

By Chuck Manker

It would be hard to say who was left more speechless – Ruth Wiles or Katie McGrath. Dave Seyer, executive director of A Special Wish Foundation – Dayton Chapter had just announced to attendees, including Ruth, at the volunteer appreciation event in the Dayton Art Institute Aug. 19 that the Ruth Wiles Volunteer of the Year award had been established. Ruth didn’t know about it until that moment.

Katie, knew, however, because although she couldn’t attend the DAI event to accept it, she was the award’s first recipient and was notified in advance by Dave.

“That kind of leaves me speechless,” Katie said about her selection. “Dave told me there was a recipient and sent me a video that showed I was the recipient. I just started crying. I thought ‘Oh, my gosh,’ to even be thought of or compared to someone like Ruth is just phenomenal to me. I’ve always looked up to Ruth, and she’s been a role model to me.”

Katie, who received a bachelor’s degree from Wright State University in December 2014 and is now in graduate school, was an intern with ASW for two years until August 2014. She began volunteering with ASW last fall at events.

Soon Katie will begin delivering “wish packets” to wish children that has information about the wishes granted to them.

Maybe dumbfounded is a better word to describe Ruth’s reaction Aug. 19 when Dave Seyer announced the volunteer award named after her and asked Ruth to come to the DAI podium for the recognition. “I was shocked, speechless and just overwhelmed. I never expected anything like that. I’m very humbled,” Ruth said.

About Katie’s selection, Ruth said, “I think she is well-deserving, and I’m glad she is the first recipient of the award. She is an example of a true volunteer.”

People who know Ruth are not surprised there is a volunteer award named after her. She also volunteers at the University of Dayton Lifelong Learning Institute, Schuster Center and Victoria Theater. Patrons see her 75-100 hours a year volunteering at performances.

Yet, ASW seems to be where Ruth’s heart lies. She began volunteering there in 1988 to help her daughter Teresa, then a board member, deliver wishes. Ruth was the organization’s first employee from 1990 until 1995 when she retired. Since then she has spent countless hours doing everything from keeping track of donations to continuing to deliver wishes. By her count, Ruth has delivered more than 200 of the 1,631 wishes the chapter has granted since its founding in 1983.

Volunteering for ASW has its own rewards for Ruth. “I’ve really enjoyed delivering the wishes; to see the kids smiling and know that you have helped a family to have something to enjoy,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re Santa Claus 365 days a year.”

There are many other jobs volunteers can do, Ruth said, including helping at events that need ASW representation, helping families at the Dayton airport leave on their wish and assisting the small office staff.

Although Katie hasn’t volunteered as long as Ruth, they both agree on the importance of volunteering in the community. “It’s a way for me to show my appreciation for my good fortune in life and help other people,” Ruth said.

Katie says volunteering has helped her grow as a person and learn about the community and its people as well as some of the situations they face in life. “I’ve really enjoyed giving back and learning about the community,” she said.

Katie learned about volunteering when some of her Wright State classes required service projects. What pointed her to ASW for the internship was an experience she doesn’t even remember. As a baby, Katie had surgery to repair a hole in her heart. Her parents told her what the family experienced during that time and it made her more sensitive to what other families go through, she said.

“I thought it was pretty cool they existed to do what they do. I didn’t realize all the great things ASW has done and is doing for families in our area. I see how many kids have things going on that others might take for granted,” she said.

ASW grants wishes to children and adolescents from birth through 20 years of age in Montgomery, Darke, Mercer, Miami, Greene and Shelby counties who are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Go to www.aspecialwish.org to volunteer or contribute in other ways.

Chuck Manker is a member of the board of directors of A Special Wish Foundation – Dayton Chapter.