People who give of their personal time to care for others are among some of the best people in the world. Here at United Way, we get to meet a lot of those folks and we try to shine a spotlight on them - in thanks for what they do but also to inspire others.
Our volunteer spotlight this month is on Mike O'Byrne! Mike volunteers at Homework Diners and he and his wife, Cindy, have been continuous United Way donors since 1989. Mike and his wife moved to WNC from Raleigh area in 1988. Mike was a Spanish teacher for Buncombe County Schools for 12 years, and for the the past 16 years he have worked as a technical trainer and a product design architect -- first with Trident Micro Systems and currently with Motorola Solutions. His job with Motorola is ending in May due to a company workforce reduction and he is trying to decide whether to seek a job related to his current industry or whether he wants to return to teaching.
How are you involved with United Way and why?
My wife and I have been a continuous United Way donors since 1989. We have been blessed in so many ways, and we consider it both a privilege and a responsibility to give back to our community. It's a joy -- not a burden. Lately I have been volunteering at the Homework Diner on Tuesday nights at Enka Middle School. I wanted to get back into a school setting and interact with students, thinking this might help me decide on which career choice to make. I have thoroughly enjoyed this volunteer experience. It has showed me that I still enjoy students -- and the Middle School age group in particular.
What are some of the most important issues facing our community?
A huge issue for WNC is that there are not enough good paying jobs. There are lots of low-paying jobs in the service sector, but most of these don't pay enough to own or rent a nice home. Consequently, area students with the brightest minds are compelled to leave in order to look for work elsewhere. This is very sad.
What small act of kindness were you once shown that you will never forget?
In 2004 Cindy and I were living in Clyde when our home was flooded twice in 10 days by Hurricanes Frances and Ivan. It is impossible to recount all of the kindnesses shown to us during that time -- both large and small -- and what they meant to us. How can you not want to give back to a community like that?
When you "grow up" who would you want to be like?
I want to be more like Jesus, but I know I have a long way to go.
What advice would you give to someone who has never volunteered before?
There is someone or someplace out there that really needs you. If you find that person or place, you won't regret it.
Is there one area of United Way's work that you are most excited by/proud of?
I am glad United Way has a special Middle School focus. I remember how difficult that age was for me, and that's still true.
A big thank you to Mike and all of our Homework Diner volunteers at Enka, Erwin and Asheville Middle!