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Signing Up to Help

Annie Anthony’s got a knack for mobilizing volunteers

Ever since Florence came to town, ANNIE ANTHONY, executive director of the CAPE FEAR VOLUNTEER CENTER, has been on the frontlines of disaster relief efforts, organizing volunteers to assist displaced tenants and clean up damages. But, this certainly isn’t her first volunteer rodeo.

Anthony has considered herself a volunteer professional since joining the Junior League in 1994 and heading a project that eventually evolved into what the Port City now knows as The Children’s Museum of Wilmington, established in 1997. But, really, Anthony has been dedicated to service work since she became a Girl Scout Brownie in her hometown outside Philadelphia.

As part of the Brownies, she served food at an institution for mentally ill patients. One day, Anthony ran into a former patient of the institution while working at JCPenney.

“It was one of the people I used to serve food to in that line, and it just touched my heart to see him,” she says. “My heart just grew like the Grinch.”

After coordinating pledge projects with her college sorority and before moving to Wilmington, she assisted with the debut of many service organizations across the country, but she hadn’t continuously led a project until joining Wilmington’s Junior League.

“It was the first time where I was really able to make things happen,” she says. “When the Junior League gave me more and more responsibility … I learned how to work with entrepreneurs and others in the community.”

After establishing the children’s museum, Anthony took some time off from service work to serve her own family, caring for a sick daughter at home.

“But once my eldest graduated college, the then-president of the United Way was like ‘You’re going to get bored,’ and she needed me to be a volunteer coordinator,” Anthony recalls. “And, of course, I signed up.”

Soon after, Anthony became involved with United Way in the early 2000s. The volunteer group diverted from the main organization, and, due to Anthony’s leadership, became a 501(c)3 of its own – the Cape Fear Volunteer Center.

Interestingly, that United Way project spun out of Hurricane Fran in the late 1990s.

“Before that, there wasn’t a way for organizations to use spontaneous volunteers,” Anthony says. “We were born out of disaster, and we continue to work with disasters.”

Despite her experience, Anthony calls Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in mid-September, the “most devastating” storm she’s experienced.

An unprecedented number of folks signed up in response, and she was able to assign more than 500 volunteers to some larger organizations who occupied the city to help. Anthony is still constantly planning for future volunteer work in response to Florence, scheduling work into next year’s spring break and summer.

“Disaster relief is different than other projects where I know exactly what the positions are,” Anthony says. “You have to be flexible. You have to be ready to see things you never thought you’d see.”

Anthony explains that there’s an emotional component to this disaster relief work. Her organization worked specifically with displaced tenants in apartment complexes that have a high number of low-income families.

“You see someone living in a wheelchair with nothing, and now they have even less,” she says.

With years of experience, Anthony has learned to recognize the strengths of her volunteers, not just understanding emotional capacities, but also establishing a database to collect information such as determining who has a truck or chainsaw skills.

In addition to disaster relief, the Cape Fear Volunteer Center offers a Big Buddy program, run locally since 2006. It also occasionally offers free home repair for low-income families on national days of service.

Anthony points out that people often offer their resources during this time of year.

“Which is good,” she says, “because we anticipate more requests for help (this holiday) than in the past.”

Last year, during the holidays, volunteers dispatched more than 1,200 meals. This year, Anthony plans to work with the Wilmington Housing Authority to provide meals to those who were evicted from the Glen and Market North communities.

“(The tenants) are going to need that kind of uplifting,” she says.

Those who are interested in volunteering can easily sign up through the organization’s website.

Some volunteers become regulars, while others just come and go as they have extra time with their families, Anthony says.

“We want to capture and engage folks as quickly as possible,” she adds. “That’s really important.”

 

To view more of photographer Megan Dietz’s work, go to megandeitz.com.

 

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