ATLANTIC — The world is a better place when volunteers choose to help others instead of seeing to their own needs first.
And good volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, from first responders at volunteer fire departments, to missionaries overseas risking life and limb to help the desperately poor survive, to something as simple as opening car doors for the elderly and helping them ascend a handicap ramp or steps (by choice) to enter a church service.
One such volunteer was honored Sunday morning at Atlantic Missionary Baptist Church with two Governor’s Awards: one being a Volunteer Service Award and the other, quite a bit more prestigious, the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service, signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
And the recipient, John Cooper Mason of Williston, is only 15 years old.
That young age suggests, “He’s only just begun.”
AMBC Pastor Adam Self mirrored that sentiment: “In the four years that I have personally known John as his pastor, John not only continues to be a strong volunteer for projects in our local community, as well as throughout all of Down East, but he also commits to help a great deal in various aspects through Atlantic Missionary Baptist Church.
“He helps out in such things as community disaster relief projects, men’s ministry gatherings, as an usher and greeter, helping our older senior adults with various things, even at their homes, and he even volunteers time to help out in our audio-visual booth for Sunday morning services.”
In addition to Mason being presented with a Volunteer Service Award, three other county residents have also received the honor.
Here is a breakdown of volunteer efforts by each of the four:
1) Ginger Wade: a volunteer at Martha’s Mission Cupboard. The mission is a volunteer-operated organization that provides food boxes to the citizens of Carteret County.
2) Joyce Brugger: a RSVP volunteer who provided medical transportation of a sight-impaired client, transporting this client for many years to and from medical appointments and for her personal care needs.
3) Ralph Emerson Williams Jr: a volunteer making sure that all the elderly in his community is well taken care. He keeps their grass cut and provides repairs to their homes when needed and also helped to repair a church damaged by Hurricane Florence.
4) John Cooper Mason: Down East youth volunteer nominated for his willingness to help those in need and his dependability during times of crisis.
The Volunteer Service Award was created by the Office of the Governor in 1979, recognizing North Carolina’s most dedicated volunteers. Through the years, the award has been bestowed on thousands of North Carolinians who have shown concern and compassion for their neighbors by volunteering in their local community. This award honors the true spirit of volunteerism by recognizing individuals, groups and businesses that make a significant contribution to their community through volunteer service.
“As County Coordinator and director of a volunteer program working for a non-profit agency, I understand the importance of volunteer service,” noted County Coordinator Dora Irving Jones in a news release. “Serving additional people with fewer and fewer resources is something most nonprofits do every day. Without volunteers, many of these organizations would not be able to provide important services. Volunteers are some of our community’s greatest assets, working every day to better fulfill the challenge of our missions. While many organizations acknowledge these unique and talented individuals in their own way, recognizing the best of the best and sharing their stories on a bigger stage inspires others to service and helps to recruit even more volunteers to the cause.”
Mason took it to another level by being honored with the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service. Medallion recipients are nominated at the county level by the county coordinator. Only one Medallion nomination is permitted per county. A statewide panel reviews and evaluates all these nominations to determine the award recipients. Medallion Award recipients are honored at an annual recognition ceremony. The 2020 Medallion ceremony at the state capital was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Cancellation of the ceremony at the state capital could be considered a Godsend since many of Mason’s family members, close friends and fellow church members were able to be on hand Sunday for the presentation. That’s also probably even better for Mason who as a sophomore at MaST High School on the Carteret Community College campus is strongly wedded to his roots, so much so that after graduating, he doesn’t plan on venturing very far from home.
“I just don’t like anywhere else,” he said after the church service. “I mean, there are other places that I do like, but if I had to pick somewhere, it would be here.”
Mason was quick to reveal his post-high school plans, noting: “Aircraft composites.”
So, the furthest he plans to venture from Down East is just across the county line to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, where he will enroll in an apprentice program that will give him a chance to work on base and stay near home.
When asked how he developed such a passion for volunteering, Mason said, “Scouts. I think that’s where most of it comes from.”
Mason became a Scout at age 6, and 9 years later, has earned all the required badges for becoming an Eagle Scout and is now completing paperwork for his project toward attaining that goal, which has to be approved by a council before he can get started on it.
It didn’t really surprise his grandmother, Wanda Gaskill, that John prefers staying close to home.
“He loves the beach, and he loves being outside,” she said. “He loves the outdoors. That’s the reason we have chickens, and we’ve had rabbits.”
But it doesn’t stop with chickens and rabbits and beach life.
“He’s a very caring person,” Gaskill added. “He would stop whatever he’s doing to help somebody else if he saw that they needed help.”
Family and friends regretted that another church member, Atlantic resident JoAnn Lewis, age 87, couldn’t be there for the awards presentation.
“I’m sorry Miss JoAnn couldn’t be here today,” said Gaskill. “He loved opening her car door for her (on Sunday mornings) and getting her walker and that kind of thing. So yeah, he’s a very caring person.”
John’s mother, Janie Mason, nodded in response to her mother’s comments, saying, “I agree. He’s kind and caring, and he enjoys being outside and handling things.
“I’m very proud, and I just know for his future, I know how it’s going to look on his resume and how much it will help as far as working toward becoming an Eagle Scout.”
Both mother and grandmother agree that perhaps the biggest influence on John becoming a super volunteer is his grandfather, Elmo Gaskill.
“I want to say something that kind of shows my prejudice, I reckon,” said his grandmother. “I think John had a very good example in his ‘Pop Pop.’ He (Elmo) was always doing things for other people. In fact, I would sometimes get aggravated because somebody else’s things would always get done and mine wouldn’t. But that was OK. I think John saw a lot of that kind of thing with his granddaddy.”
Janie echoed that sentiment: “I think he’s got a lot of his ‘Pop Pop’ in him too.”
Elmo, who died in 2014 at age 75, was a member and deacon at AMBC. He also was a member of Carteret Historical Society, Core Sound Water Fowl Museum, American Legion and Friends of Hunting Quarters Primitive Baptist Church. The Gaskills’ son and Janie’s brother, James, is presently a deacon and choir director at AMBC.
As county coordinator, Irving probably best summed up the generosity of all the award recipients when noting in a release that:
“Because of YOU ... Someone will have enough to eat tonight. Someone will have decent clothes to wear. Someone will have shelter. Someone will receive medical care. Someone knows there’s at least one person in this world who cares. This world is a better place because you volunteered, and we thank you for it.”