MOUNT VERNON — For Knox County’s Sherry Williams, volunteering is a way of life.
“I grew up in a very small town in northern Minnesota. Life was built on volunteering,” Williams said.
She started volunteering at church, then through 4H, and then Future Homemakers of America (FHA), where she served as a state and national officer. As a teenager, Williams volunteered with the March of Dimes.
“They traveled me all over the U.S. speaking on the topic of teen parenting,” she said.
Williams moved to Ohio in 1986 to work with Prevent Blindness. She retired in 2022 after 35 years as CEO of Prevent Blindness Ohio and still serves on the Advocacy Committee.
In recognition of her efforts, Williams received Knox County’s Outstanding Senior Award from the Ohio District 5 Area on Aging. AOA presented the award during an Aug. 30 ceremony in Mansfield.
Williams’ daughter, Emily Conaway, nominated her for the award.
“In retirement, Sherry has had the fantastic opportunity to promote much more of her time to a multitude of issues, all in the effort to strengthen the nonprofit infrastructure around the area of public health,” Conaway wrote in her nomination letter. “Retirement for Sherry meant not slowing down; instead, it meant devoting her energy and time to areas in which she feels can make the most impact.”
Williams said she was shocked to learn she was nominated for the award. She almost deleted the notification email, thinking it was spam.
“I thought ‘My gosh. Who’s done this?’” she said. “I had no idea; she did it on the sly.
“In many ways, I don’t feel worthy because I could do so much more, and I know there are many people serving in the community at higher levels as well.”
The importance of volunteering
“I think when you are in a community … in order to be fulfilled and gratified, you share your talent where you can,” Williams said. “God has given us gifts. I feel I have some gift of knowledge, and I have the gift of time now.
“I feel restless if I am not making the most of my gifts.”
In addition to continuing with Prevent Blindness of Ohio, Williams serves as secretary of the Board of Directors for Mental Health and Recovery of Licking and Knox Counties. She also sits on the executive and governance committees.
She is a member of the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations Standards of Excellence Advisory Committee, an advisor for the Ann Ellis Fund of The Columbus Foundation, and is a member of the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Ohio Fire Code Rule Recommendation Committee.
“Sherry also champions advocacy efforts across the state and across the United States for the regulation of consumer fireworks, an effort near and dear to her heart for over 35 years,” Conaway wrote.
“I’ve had sort of a lifetime of volunteering. It’s what my parents taught me and what a small community did,” the 66-year-old Williams said. “So volunteering since age 8, it’s been a long time. A way of life in a small town.
“Mount Vernon is a small town, too, filled with people doing things to make a better and richer place.”
Bringing it home
After more than three decades with Prevent Blindness, Williams said she is proud of how the organization serves people in Knox County.
Through a partnership with Knox Public Health, Prevent Blindness provides free eye exams and free glasses to those whose income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
“There’s a great need in Knox County,” Williams said. “It feels good that in my own community, there are folks reaping the benefits of my working at Prevent Blindness.”
Her special concern is for seniors and children.
“Vision is key for seniors to enjoy a life of independence. And it’s key to learning and success for children,” she said.
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