I don’t know if a willingness to volunteer can be affected by genetics or not. If I had to make an argument for it, I would present Don and Ramona Giles as evidence that it may.
Don has been my friend since the fourth grade in Unadilla. We were pals at school, then roommates at Valdosta State College. Don taught me to study by osmosis. He put his book beneath his pillow late one night and went to sleep. He made better than I did, clearly proving that osmosis works.
After college we got busy with jobs and family for several decades, so we only saw each other occasionally. Now that we’ve both retired, we stay in touch more regularly.
Don’s always had a lot of energy. He pedaled 400 miles in Bike Across Georgia, then came home and helped start Biking Bleckley, a one-day ride. Even more impressive is the energy he puts into volunteer work for First Baptist Cochran and the community around it. His wife, Ramona, is just as active. They share a passion for helping others, something they each learned during their childhood.
The good examples in their families go back at least two generations. Don’s maternal grandmother, Willa Mae Rooks, began teaching the 7th grade boys’ Sunday School Class at First Baptist Tifton when she was 45. She retired 50 years later at the age of 95. Each year she visited the home of every class member, always doing more than the minimum. Granny Rooks lived to be 102. I don’t know if her life was longer than the norm because of her loving service to others, but I believe it was better.
Ramona has been in the choir at First Baptist Cochran for 36 years. Don has been teaching Sunday School for 35. He’s been a deacon for 33 years and currently serves as chairman. They’ve been on an estimated 20 mission trips, mostly to help build churches.
Don went to Haiti this year to build a house for a mother with three young children. It’s a small tin building with no running water or electricity and a rock floor. Their mission group took a six-month supply of medicine for her daughter who has seizures and can’t communicate. When Don shared a picture of the house and that family’s story, I was reminded I don’t have any real reasons to complain.
Don and Ramona assist with three or more cross country track meets each year. Coach Shelly Cranford asked them to help back in 2003. They’ve been volunteering ever since. They set up the sound system, make announcements, and play old time rock and roll music.
This year they’ve been involved with several community planning committees. The Mayor of Cochran appreciatively teases them about having “VOLUNTEER” stamped on their foreheads.
I asked Don how they got started with volunteer work and what motivates them to keep up a pace most of us would find exhausting. I was surprised where their journey began.
On the last day of their honeymoon in 1983 they were standing on a beach as the sun was going down. “We made a commitment to have Jesus Christ as the center of our new family,” he said. “We read about Christ’ example of serving others and we strive to follow that, not always succeeding, but we try.”
A few days after Don retired from his longtime job with Georgia Farm Bureau, he became the volunteer President of the Bleckley Christian Learning Center. It offers elective classes which junior high and high school students may opt to take off campus. When he mentioned it to me four years ago, my unspoken thought was that it wouldn’t attract much interest. I’m glad I kept quiet.
They’ve already had over 500 students participate. Many of those students have also been involved in Bible reading marathons and prayer walks. Don has helped advise others who have begun similar programs elsewhere. Interest continues to grow in starting programs outside of Bleckley County.
The list of worthwhile causes Don and Ramona Giles are involved in is too long for one column. They have a heritage of volunteering, but what nurtured it was a heritage of faith. Strong faith has been evident for multiple generations. It’s a faith that continues to be manifest in works. (James 2:14-26)
Don and Ramona made a commitment while standing by the ocean 36 years ago. That commitment changed their lives and has given them opportunities to help change the lives of many others. I don’t know if they’ll live longer because of their selfless service to others, but I know they’ll live better. They’ve been living better for a long time already.