Guest Commentary: Volunteers deserve thanks for being ‘wind beneath our wings’


Raina Harper Allen is the director of the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative, a program of the United Way of Delaware. For information, visit

My heart hurts. I don’t think it’s just me.

How could it be when, according to ABC News and the Gun Violence Archive in April, “there have been more mass shootings than days in 2023”? Last month, we lost Corey Mumford, a senior from Laurel High School, the unintended target of the shooting that took his life. His parents were preparing for his participation in prom and graduation. Now, they are likely wracked with grief, struggling to comprehend their lives without him, as our community mourns the loss of another Black male.

Also in April, in Kansas City, Missouri, another Black male was shot. An older homeowner responded to a ring of his doorbell with his loaded weapon. Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old, was shot at point-blank range in the head and arm without being able to ask for the help he sought in finding his younger siblings.

Make it make sense. How can we live in our society and maintain hope in the midst of this bad trouble?

Then, my phone’s photo gallery reframed my thinking. Photo after photo of the hundreds of mostly Black students and their allies who gathered for our second Black Student Summit March 18 in Middletown made my heart soar. And what’s more are the many dedicated volunteers, whose endless smiles and overwhelming goodwill pushed forward the summit and all of the work of the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative.

Our engine is powered by volunteers. It’s the reason we are able to advance our racial justice agenda and march toward the more equitable Delaware we all believe is possible.

Volunteers lead the work on each of our committees:

  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion — Taryn Guy and Debbie Smith.
  • Healthy Equity — Erin Ridout, Dr. Brittany Hazzard and Kim Blanch.
  • Wealth Creation — Shelly Cecchett and Bernice Edwards.
  • Criminal Justice — Dave Bever, with help from Mike Brickner, Renata Kowalczyk and Lynne Kielhorne.
  • Education — Cliffvon Howell, Fatimah Conley-Stone and Dr. Sandi Hagans.
  • Youth — Cierra Hall-Hipkins and Jalyn Powell.
  • Public Policy — Anne Farley and Yvette Santiago.

Volunteers are at the heart of each Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative committee meeting, event and initiative. Volunteers lead the charge on the planning for our Black students and will do so for our upcoming Hispanic Student Summit during Hispanic Heritage Month. Volunteers are the guests on the “Tea Time With Alex” and “Level Up With the DRJC” weekly livestream shows. Our advocacy efforts are based on the engagement and support of our volunteers, without which we would be nothing. I’m not overstating. We could not do this without our volunteers. Unfound.

Learning that the week I am writing this is National Volunteer Week felt like kismet. It’s a time, according to Points of Light, to “shine a light on the people and causes that inspire us to serve, recognizing and thanking volunteers who lend their time, talent and voice to make a difference in their communities.” Just when sadness took hold, my view of the world was expanded to include those exceptional men and women, boys and girls who volunteer and are the wind beneath our wings.

I’m shining a bright light on all collaborative members and volunteers. Thank you for every single thing you have done with and for us in the fight for racial justice. I am grateful for it all and hope that you are proud of what we accomplished together.

Volunteers give us hope. They did for me. There’s miles to go before we sleep and lots of opportunities to serve. If you haven’t already, please join us in the fight. If you have, please accept our thanks and stay with the fight.

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.