Caring community

By on June 24, 2015

National speaker drives 800 miles to promote volunteerism

Ben LeRoy (left) drove about 800 miles to speak at the Lititz Cares kickoff Monday night. Joe Vulopas drove about two miles. Regardless of their proximity, both are passionate about healthy communities. The next Lititz Cares meeting is set for July 13, and everyone, near and far, is invited to attend. (Preston Whitcraft photo)

Ben LeRoy (left) drove about 800 miles to speak at the Lititz Cares kickoff Monday night. Joe Vulopas drove about two miles. Regardless of their proximity, both are passionate about healthy communities. The next Lititz Cares meeting is set for July 13, and everyone, near and far, is invited to attend. (Preston Whitcraft photo)

Local service organizations, religious leaders, residents and other community leaders sat at attention Monday evening in the fellowship hall of the Lititz Church of the Brethren. The two primary speakers for the Lititz Cares kickoff are passionate about creating healthy communities in general, and Lititz specifically.

The core group has been meeting for a year and, according to Venture Lititz Executive Director Kelly Withum, has established three primary goals.

“Number one, to increase volunteerism,” explained Withum. “Number two is to create an information center for available help and to educate the public about it. And number three is to have and coordinate organizations that provide those services.”

Joe Vulopas, an English teacher at Cocalico High School and Lititz resident, was introduced first. He captivated the audience his passion for Aevidum, a club created when a sophomore student committed suicide. It was originally formed to support youth suffering from depression. There are currently more than 100,000 members nationwide, and representatives have spoken on Good Morning America and at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Ben LeRoy was also invited to address the group, having recently completed a 50 state tour of volunteering and charitable work, inspired by a friend’s suicide.

Lititz Area Kiwanis Club past president Mark Freeman acted as master of ceremonies for the program.

“The idea was to put together the people who make things happen in Lititz,” he said. “You’re all guinea pigs.”

Freeman introduced the organization’s slogan, “A community with caring is contagious,” while inviting those in attendance to help swell the current following of 150 on the Lititz Cares Facebook page.

Vulopas talked about how Aevidum developed “The Talk,” which is a conversation to determine if each person is accepted, appreciated, acknowledged and cared for.

This is also the measuring stick for a healthy community,” he said.

Vulopas also addressed the critical role that the youth in a school or community will play in the success of the initiative.

“Aevidum is not mine,” he explained. “Our youth make this thing roll. They like to act and they are problem-solvers. Students are only as healthy as the community they come from, not just the family they come from. I talk to a lot of kids who want to be teachers. The teachers are the front line.”

There was also a great appreciation for the good things already in place in Lititz.

“This is my hometown,” added Vulopas. “I want to make sure it’s healthy. We will be the first community in the nation to attempt this.”

LeRoy started his remarks by not saying anything.

“Take 30 seconds to close your eyes to think about someone who needs help, or to just send out positive energy,” he said.

You could literally hear a pin drop or your neighbor’s breathing as those seated complied.

“I have fallen in love with this country on so many levels,” LeRoy said. “Different ages, religions, races and economic backgrounds.”

He described the inspiration for the 50 state tour of charitable volunteerism.

“In November of 2013, I was one of 41 people to receive an email with the subject line ‘A fond farewell from Peter.’ He had taken his life. In the end, Peter wanted to spend all of his time helping others, but couldn’t because of the need to support himself.

“There were several things that I learned while convincing myself that I could give while remaining employed,” continued LeRoy. “There is so much to be learned if I just listen. How important it is that we allow others to help us. That it’s not always going to be easy is OK. And whenever we have the opportunity to do good, we should, even if we are tired.”

Freeman wanted the audience to know LeRoy’s effort just in traveling to Lititz from his home state of Wisconsin.

“Ben drove 831 miles in his own car, just to speak to us this evening,” he said.

During the 50 state tour, LeRoy drove 10,500 miles and flew 45,000 more.

Another faction of Lititz Cares is the Warwick Ministerium.

“It’s a loosely formed federation,” said current president Rev. Dr. James Haun, pastor of St. Luke’s United Church of Christ on North Broad Street. “Lititz is an amazing town with amazing volunteers, and a desire to do more. Getting together like this is where a lot of connections are made. There is great value in that.”

The next Lititz Cares meeting is July 13 at 6 p.m. at Lititz Borough Hall. Everyone is invited.

“We’re also working on a date for a community potluck event at the park,” Freeman said.

Food, or the lack of it, is something that LeRoy sees as a critical element to community health.

“Food insecurity is such a challenge,” he said. “If people are eating, they can focus on the other aspects of their lives.”

When asked if charity or volunteerism can be taught or learned, LeRoy had the following response:

“It’s contagious. There was a study done at UCLA that found that if we watch someone else, we are compelled or elevated to do it ourselves. Once we do things, we want to do more. You just have to expose them. I know that, but I’m glad I was able to find the science to back it up.”

To learn more about this community effort, go to Lititz Cares on Facebook. Check out aevidum.com or belocaleverywhere.com, or send an email request to lititzcares@gmail.com.

Kevin Frey is a local freelance writer. He welcomes reader feedback at frey_kevin@ymail.com. 

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