Good Place Akron


Creating Windows of Opportunity

By: Katie Sobiech

It was just another day at the Salvation Army when Mark Powers noticed a touching interaction between JB Barker, a volunteer at the Salvation Army, and a BraVo! volunteer. Bravo, which stands for Building Relationships and Volunteer Opportunities is a branch of the United Disability Services (UDS) programs.

“United Disability Services is an organization for people who are physically and mentally disabled,” Courtney Deal, the program’s supervisor said, “We have several different adult day services. Our BraVo program started from them.”

BraVo! creates a greater awareness of the skills and abilities of people with disabilities and how everyone is able to contribute to the community in a meaningful way. The BraVo! team is currently available Monday through Friday during daytime hours to help local non-profit and civic organizations supplement their volunteer needs.

The Purpose of BraVo!

“What our program is trying to do is teach them (BraVo! volunteers) that they are part of the community and that their services are needed,” Deal said.

Volunteers have put in more than 11,000 hours since August of 2007, volunteering for more than a dozen organizations. Some of these include Keep Akron Beautiful, Greenleaf Community Center, Community Aids Network and The Alzheimer’s Association.

“All of the people that we volunteer for are non profit agencies. They count on our individuals to come in and help out. I have seen the volunteer’s self esteem grow, they’ve become more independent and half the time when we go somewhere now it’s like we don’t even matter anymore. They go right up to the staff and ask ‘What do we need to do?’,” Deal laughed.

Volunteers average 6 hours of work a day. Goals through the volunteering process include developing new skills through service to others, experiencing new things, learning about the community, directing community involvement and tracking accomplishments.

BraVo! and the Salvation Army

BraVo! volunteers help at the Salvation Army soup kitchen every Thursday. JB Barker volunteers every day. Through their interaction, these unlikely friends formed a bond through their volunteer work.

Deal said, “They all really look forward to coming and working, and a lot of times they will get matched up with JB so I’m always hearing stories about JB. They love JB and have really learned a lot from him, including how to be a good volunteer.”

Mary Jo, one BraVo! volunteer standing by the food, smiling, said, “The best part I like to do is the silverware. That’s my favorite thing. It makes me happy. I just like it here, helping the people.”

Jonathan, another volunteer said, “I like doing the trays, emptying them into the trash can.”

Jackie, standing next to Jonathan said, “I like this. It’s my first time doing the trays. I painted the stands.”

What Jackie was referring to was painting the Salvation Army kettle stands for the winter red kettle campaign.

“She really enjoyed doing that,” Deal said.

BraVo! volunteers began their work at the Salvation Army 2 ½ years ago.

A Heart for Volunteering

Barker has volunteered at the Salvation Army for three years. He doesn’t get paid for it, and doesn’t want to. One of his tasks is to sign everyone in who comes to the soup kitchen. Many of the men and women are no strangers to the kitchen, as JB greets them by name or number (they are checked in by number).

“I retired from Ford Motor Company and got tired of sitting at home. I wanted to find something to do and thought of the Salvation Army,” he said.

Some work for salary, but JB finds it rewarding not to.

“The people on the outside asked ‘Why are you working for nothing?’,” he said, “and I said ‘I’m not working for nothing, I’m giving back. I’ve been blessed and want to share my blessing with someone else’.”

For more information on BraVo! you can visit their website at or contact 330-762-9755.

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