By Debby Woodin
Twelve-year-old Von Alford, blindfolded with a red bandanna, missed with the first swing, but connected on his second and knocked the ball within feet of outfielders.
Those outfielders, children served by the Association for the Blind, ran to the ball, locating it by its audible beep, while Von made a beeline down the baseline.
After he scored, Von returned to home plate excited about his hit.
“It’s harder than if you could see,” said the boy. “If I was blind, I wouldn’t know what do because I’ve never actually done this before.”
His sister, Kahee Alford, 23, was one of those outfielders. Blind since birth, she’s a seasoned pro at beeper ball. “It’s easy,” she said. “I just run to the bases, and it’s easy.”
Volunteers from U.S. Bank and Empire District Electric Co. treated 28 visually impaired adults and children of the Association for the Blind and their families to a picnic and a few rounds of beeper ball on Friday as part of the United Way’s Day of Action. That is a day devoted to community service by United Way organizations across the U.S., including the local chapter, the United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.
Fifteen companies in the Joplin and Pittsburg, Kan., areas provided services to 13 organizations such as the Association for the Blind, Children’s Haven, the Cerebral Palsy Center in Webb City, and the Pittsburg Family YMCA and Community Child Care Learning Center.
“It’s really an amazing thing to witness,” said Logan Stanley, this year’s United Way campaign chairman. “For one day no matter where you live you can see people from all walks of life coming together to help out one another.”
Terry Mills, division manager of U.S. Bank, was one of the bank’s volunteers who helped serve a hot dog lunch during the beeper ball games at Schifferdecker Park. He said U.S. Bank gives its employees a paid day away from the office each year to perform community service, and some of the local bank’s employees picked Friday to help since it was a United Way event.
A paid volunteer day gives hourly workers who depend on their checks to make ends meet an opportunity to volunteer and share in the feeling of contributing to the community, Mills said.
“We’re glad to be out here,” Mills said of the experience.
Fifteen employees of Empire District Electric Co. were involved in the volunteer day. Some went to paint at the Community Clinic and others came to help with the beeper ball picnic, where “the kids won,” said Adam Brockmiller, Empire’s campaign chairman this year.
“We had a great time and lots of fun. It’s always good to give back to the community,” and to work as partners with the United Way and the agencies that derive funds from the campaign.
A team of four volunteers from Southwest Missouri Bank visited Children’s Haven, 701 Picher Ave.
“We’re making build-your-own pizzas because we thought it could be an activity as well as a meal,” said volunteer Tracy Asbell. Her co-workers Kristy Watts, Emily Talken and Peggy Fuller toured the shelter before helping the children and staff make their lunch.
“SMB has been very supportive of United Way, but it also found time this year to be part of our 2,500 hours of community service,” Fuller said. SMB has pledged that its officers and employees will log 2,500 hours of volunteer work this year in observance of the 25-year anniversary since SMB built its Duquesne branch.
“Today will put us over three-quarters of the way to 2,500 hours,” Fuller said.
The Day of Action started early for United Way volunteers. At a 7:30 a.m. ceremony, Doug Engle, general manager of PCS Phosphate in Joplin, announced a donation of $3,000. The company’s donation will pay for a service on the United Way website to match volunteers with assignments. It is called Volunteer Solutions.
“Volunteers are precious assets,” said Bill Aquino, board chairman of the United Way agency. “We are doing everything we can to make sure people who want to give back to the community have the opportunity to do so.”
Volunteer Solutions will be available on the United Way’s website, www.unitedwaymokan.org, beginning Aug. 1.
Agencies assisted Friday
American Red Cross
Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland
Ozark Trails Council of Boy Scouts
Pittsburg Family YMCA
Pittsburg Community Child Care Learning Center
Cerebral Palsy of Tri-County
Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Jasper/Newton Counties
The Salvation Army of Pittsburg.
Joplin Association for the Blind
Companies providing volunteers
Southwest Missouri Bank
Commerce Bank of Joplin and Pittsburg
Citizens National Bank
Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce
Empire District Electric Co.
Community Bank & Trust