Clark Button, Margaret Dobbins, Greater Cleveland Volunteers Executive Director Joy Banish and Eric Gordon (Photograph by Eric Eakin)

Greater Cleveland Volunteers recently celebrated a milestone anniversary, marking 50 years of connecting volunteers with opportunities to serve the Northeast Ohio community.
More than 300 guests attended a celebratory luncheon held during National Volunteer Week. After welcoming remarks by Rosemary Rehner, Greater Cleveland Volunteers board president, attendees were introduced to guest speaker Monica Robins, Channel 3 News health correspondent. Robins spoke of her own recent health crisis and of the people who reached out to her in support. “We have no idea of the journeys other people are taking. If we take a moment to put ourselves in their shoes, wouldn’t the world be a better place? Each of us can do something to make our community better,” she noted.
The highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of awards to three inspiring and well-deserving recipients.
The Frances White Gale Award for Educational Excellence was presented to Margaret Dobbins. When Dobbins retired in 2018 after years as an educator, she knew that she wanted to do something to help children. Her neighbor connected her to Greater Cleveland Volunteers and she became involved in the AARP Foundation Experience Corps literacy tutoring program. Experience Corps’ focus on, “inspiring volunteers to disrupt the cycle of poverty by making a lasting difference in the lives of America’s most vulnerable children” convinced her to get involved.
Dobbins has been tutoring second and third-grade students at A.J. Rickoff elementary school in Cleveland ever since. She continued to serve throughout the pandemic even when schools were closed and tutoring shifted to being done by video conferencing. She makes each tutoring session feel tailor-made to the student by building a personal connection with each child. She said that connecting with them is important because being another responsible adult in their lives encouraging them helps them to be successful. In addition to tutoring, Dobbins helps with Experience Corps volunteer training, sharing her skills with new tutors.
Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) was also a recipient of a Frances White Gale Award for Educational Excellence. He is responsible for the leadership and daily management of Cleveland’s 35,600-student school district. Gordon led the effort to develop the Cleveland Plan, which has dramatically improved academic performance, including a 29 percent gain in graduation rates. He led a coalition to bring “Say Yes to Education” to Cleveland, which for the next 25 years will provide CMSD students with full-tuition college scholarships upon graduation. As a result, the district has seen an increase in post-secondary education enrollment.
Among the many awards that Gordon has received is the Green-Garner Award of the Council of the Great City Schools, distinguishing him as the top Urban Educator of the Year, and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation Outstanding Ohio Superintendent Performance Award. He has mentored numerous CMSD students and supported them throughout their academic and personal lives. He has supported the Greater Cleveland Volunteers AARP Foundation Experience Corps tutoring program and has spent time meeting with volunteers and the students they work with.
The David F. Leahy Award for Volunteer Excellence was presented to Clark Button, a volunteer with various organizations for more than 35 years. In 2018, he offered his services as a computer lab volunteer at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry’s Men’s Shelter. He staffs a six-station lab there, helping men develop basic computer skills such as filling out forms and creating or updating job resumes. During the pandemic, Button helped set up online volunteer workshops with shelter residents. When he discovered that volunteers needed to be at hotels where shelter residents stayed, he stepped in and led bingo games in a hotel ballroom.
Button also volunteers regularly with Holden Forests and Gardens, where he monitors trails, records plant collections, assists scientists and helps in the continuing education department. He is a regular “Red Coat” volunteer at Playhouse Square, helps at the Ohio Library for the Blind and Disabled, and distributes food for Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services (NEON). He assists with other done-in-a-day events, such as fresh produce distributions, fundraising events and turkey giveaways on Thanksgiving Day. Button has volunteered with more than 40 organizations in the Northeast Ohio community. (See story below)