What are you willing to do for Chattanooga?
Mayor Andy Berke posed this question to the 200 people gathered in the atrium of Unum's west wing Tuesday night for the United Way of Chattanooga's annual Volunteer United Awards Banquet.
Nearly 12,000 people already have answered that question, donating 35,757 hours of work to local nonprofit organizations in 2012.
The banquet recognized all who gave their time last year, but selected seven individuals for Volunteer of the Year awards.
"Tonight we celebrate service," said Sheila Moore, executive director of United Way's volunteer center, "which is our way of acknowledging all the volunteers that interact with so many of our nonprofit organizations and provide ... a real impact on the community."
Each honoree was recognized for a different category of volunteerism: Fred Vail, community volunteer; Becky Donaldson, environmental volunteer; Alonzo Jarrett, education volunteer; Gabriel Corzo, youth volunteer; Janice Stanley, national service volunteer; and Lamar and Panny Rankin, health volunteers.
Berke said it was this kind of individual involvement from residents that Chattanooga most needs.
"I thank you for raising your hand and saying you're willing to be part of the solution. That's critical for our city," he said. "It's going to take all of us to make our community better."
Jarrett is doing his part by helping Brainerd High School students with the college application process and by offering help with scholarship essays, financial advice and tips of finding the right school. But he says he didn't do it for the recognition.
"When I was volunteering, I never thought of winning," he said. "Obviously it's nice to know it doesn't go unnoticed. But hopefully, [volunteering] will catch on to others. That's what's most important."