Meet the Disney and Points of Light Volunteer Family of the Year nominees originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com
For thousands across America, volunteering is a family affair.
Take, for example, the nominees for the first-ever Volunteer Family of the Year, who are being honored by Disney and Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteerism.
"Good Morning America" introduced viewers to these deserving families, profiled below, that are making a difference in their community through volunteering. Thousands across the country were nominated by nonprofits, schools and others who are shining examples of volunteerism, but the field has been narrowed down to these five finalists who give their time to a variety of causes.
Get to know more about the families and be sure to tune in to “GMA” on Nov. 1, when the winner will be announced.
Meet the Nominated Families
The Nepola family of Pembroke Pine, Florida, has volunteered with HandsOn Broward since 2015, working on projects as varied as building gardens, distributing school supplies and packing meals for the hungry.
Parents Justin and Jackie, along with daughters Mia and Ava, even recently ran two big events on the same day -- the Florida AIDS Walk in the morning and Night On the Streets in the evening -- after the latter was rescheduled because of the weather.
That commitment to those events also extends to their service work, with the family participating in efforts by other groups in their area. Those efforts have seen them nominated individually for a number of service awards.
“Every person has a passion so if they are volunteering with animals, the family will take Mia’s charge. If the family is volunteering building houses, Justin will take charge. Jackie likes to help with people and Ava likes to take the lead for art projects,” they said.
“Find a project that is necessary or that you would enjoy doing, and find a nonprofit that does it. Don’t wait or else you probably won’t do it. Take the first step, which is the hardest part. Put it on the calendar, sign up, and go and do it. You will be hooked and will want to continue! Justin and Ava were nervous with their first volunteer project but now they love it and always want to do it,” they added.
For the past six years, the Jeevanayagam family has been volunteering with Spectrum Autism Support Group. Parents Nicky and Jacob, and twins Luke and Hannah, have a close connection to the organization’s mission, as Luke has autism and regularly participates in the family’s service work.
That includes fundraising, organizing events, recruiting new volunteers and leading the way by inspiring others in their community with their commitment to service.
When they’re not exhibiting social media expertise, raising funds for a 5K, picking up presents for less-fortunate children or running an autism awareness program, they exemplify their devotion to service simply by showing up first to -- and leaving last from -- their growing list of projects.
“We’ve had many journeys along our way, whether from the hardship coming out of Sri Lanka during a civil war, moving to [Canada], and then coming to the U.S.,” Jacob said. “A lot of people helped us along the way. From my perspective, I feel strongly about giving to others because of what we’ve received, but also to be part of our community.”
“For my generation, how busy we make our lives and how absorbed we are in our lives and electronics, volunteering as a family changes that perspective,” Hannah said. “You realize the needs of other people. That’s made a huge difference.”
Kevin and Carey Wallace approached Dreams on Horseback 17 years with an unusual request. They asked the organization if it could offer a therapeutic horse program for their then-4-year-old daughter Morgan, who had been diagnosed with autism.
Dreams on Horseback, which had participated in inner-city outreach efforts, hadn’t delved into therapeutic horse programming until that moment. But Kevin and Carey’s delight at Morgan's progress spurred a deep connection with the agency.
Since that time, Kevin and Carey have both gone one to join Dreams on Horseback’s executive board, collecting serving for 25 years, and Kevin has even held the role of board president since 2009.
What’s more, Morgan's grandparents, Darlene and George Bell, also joined as volunteers, with Darlene expanding Dreams on Horseback’s therapeutic offerings with the creation of a program to help support veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Morgan’s sister, Lindsay, is also involved in the group, with three generations of Bell-Wallace family embracing the mission to “help people with challenges improve their lives through horse-partnered learning experiences and education.”
And it’s been beneficial closer to home, teaching Morgan how to help others in need, instilling great qualities in both their daughters and building long-lasting relationships and friendships. With the emphasis on family, no wonder the Bell-Wallaces say, “To get involved, you have to get involved with something that you are super passionate about.”
The Aguirre family of McAllen, Texas, saw their community service evolve from a chance encounter.
About five years ago, then-6-year-old daughter Emily noticed a man who was homeless outside their local grocery store. Emily had many questions after her father, Rick, explained that the man did not have a home and lived on the streets.
Emily’s generosity kicked in when she asked if they could give him some food, since he looked hungry. So they did just that, purchasing a dozen tamales and a cup of coffee for the stranger, who appreciated the token of kindness.
Soon afterward, the family went on to found Emily’s Meals, which works to feed 40 people every day and connect the homeless to numerous local health and social service agencies -- even coordinating pet care. The family also has a trailer, where the people they help can take showers and get access to toiletries.
“Volunteering has brought us close together, especially with the girls. We look forward to feeding the homeless together every week,” they said.
Their advice to other families who may be considering getting involved and helping their community?
“Start small. It can be as simple and little as a bottle of water. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to feed 40 people, start by feeding one person a day. It’s all about making a difference in someone’s life.”
The Orlando family of California devotes hours each week to the Alameda County Foster Parent Association, Chapter 1’s clothing closet.
Not only have Rendy and Don Orlando benefited from the service, which packs bags of clothing for kids in the foster care system, but they have taken in a sibling group of six children with a goal of adopting the seventh. The pair are essential to helping keep the closet running and reaching as many people who needs its services as possible.
“For our family, we started out doing small things,” they said. “After an event, we would help clean up. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing -- and in time, you will find your niche and each family member will find their niche."
That’s especially true for the Orlandos, where one child may volunteer at the closet during breaks from college and another tags along with mom to help with the day-to-day sorting of items.
Rendy wants to instill in the kids the ability to look past themselves and help others, and realize that it’s not always about “me, me, me.”
“I want us to work together to reach a positive goal, even if it’s different individually or for the organization,” she said. “Volunteering is a component we want to instill in our children, and that we are here to help others."
Points of Light
You can see more stories of citizens stepping up to serve their communities on the Points of Light blog.
Visit Points of Light to find a volunteer opportunity near you or learn about one of our nonprofit affiliates around the globe. Nonprofits and schools in the U.S. can also join the Disney Family Volunteering Reward Program to earn Disney Parks tickets by hosting volunteer family events.
Disney is the parent company of ABC News and "Good Morning America."