Going Above & Beyond
Marion Carrithers Talks Jeffersontown Volunteer of the Year Honors & Giving Back
Volunteers are the lifeblood of many organizations. They often work behind the scenes without much recognition but are constantly seeking out ways to support the causes and people most important to them.
Marion Carrithers is one such volunteer. The Memphis, Tennessee, native moved to Louisville nearly 30 years ago and has made giving back one of her top priorities. Last April, Carrithers was honored with the 2018 Volunteer of the Year award by the Jeffersontown Chamber of Commerce during their annual BOOM (Best of our Members) Awards.
For Carrithers, volunteering is a deeply personal experience that she traces back to the lessons her mother and father, Benny and Fay Ferrell, taught her.
“My parents were such great examples and lessons about volunteering and being a servant came from them,” Carrithers says.
The Ferrells were Carrithers’ “bonus parents,” who she began to live with during college.
“I have a great relationship with my biological parents, and I was lucky to get another set later in life,” Carrithers says. “I started learning these lessons of volunteering and giving back when I lived with momma and daddy and have come to understand them more in dad’s death. I want to carry on his legacy.”
Benny worked for the same company for 33 years, working his way up from a clerk to the third highest position. No matter what role he was in, he always showed the same respect to employees across every level in the company.
After he retired, it seemed he was busier than ever lending a helping hand to friends and neighbors.
“He would run his truck up and down the driveway all day long, taking supplies to neighbors, digging post holes for people who didn’t even know him, using our oil pit to change oil,” Carrithers says. “He was so behind the scenes. It was not for glory, it was not for attention.”
His spirit of volunteerism and giving back stemmed from his idea that everybody had a skill set and you’re not supposed to keep it to yourself.
“That’s what volunteers do, they’re just lending their skill set to fill in a gap,” Carrithers says.
Benny’s death in January 2016 had a huge impact on Carrithers, who dedicates her own work to remembering his legacy.
“My dad never focused on himself, even when he was dying of pancreatic cancer,” she says. “It was all about focusing on other people, and he was much happier because of that.”
“This is what was expected of us, to not keep the focus on ourselves but to share the focus with others,” she says. “I’m just humbled my dad’s legacy makes a difference and my attempt to carry his legacy makes a difference. Mom is 86 years old, and when I told her about the award she said, ‘Well good, you should be doing something!’ It was no big deal in my household.”
Since moving to Louisville in 1989, Carrithers has found dozens of ways to put her skills to use and honor her dad’s legacy. As fate would have it, she met her future husband, Scott, shortly after moving to the area while he was volunteering at Southeast Christian Church. The couple has remained deeply involved with the church, and volunteer their time there each week.
“Through my volunteering at Cafe 920 at church, I have met one of my dearest friends who also volunteers there,” Carrithers says. “Serving at church is important to both of us, and we share the same value system because church is a priority.”
Of course, not all volunteering and service has a religious tie, and Carrithers has used her talents and skills to benefit several other local organizations, including the Jeffersontown Chamber of Commerce, Gaslight Festival, Friends of Eastern Cemetery, Bourbon Women and Alley Cat Advocates.
“Volunteers bring great value to organizations and one of the biggest issues organizers have are getting things done with a small unpaid or low paid staff,” Carrithers says. “When you’re a volunteer, you’re a blessing for those you show up for.”
Carrithers lives in the Highlands but has been an active member of the Jeffersontown Chamber on and off for more than 20 years. She currently works for Echelon Advisors out of Texas, specializing in captive insurance for risk management and is a member of the chamber’s Navigator Committee.
During her time with the chamber, she has also used her skills to make expertly-crafted silent auction gift baskets for the Business Expo, served on the board and volunteered her time for nearly every aspect of the Gaslight Festival.
During the BOOM Awards, Jaracz Swain of Safety Net, the 2017 Volunteer of the Year who presented Carrithers with her award, said: “Fall brings Gaslight into full swing, and she is a fixture among the dance groups, scout troops and marching bands, helping them find their places for Thursday’s grand parade. On Festival Friday you will see her unassuming shadow, walking for hours up and down the street, work boots and ball cap on, unloading boxes for vendors or laughingly celebrating the successful wrestling of a stubborn canopy. Working the festival welcome center and helping with takedown closes out the busy week. It’s all in a day’s work for her.”
Carrithers often wears her dad’s old work boots to Gaslight and other volunteer sites, another way that she feels tied to her dad.
When nearly $4,000 worth of equipment was stolen from Friends of Eastern Cemetery — a completely volunteer-run organization — last year, Carrithers donated some of her dad’s old lawn-care equipment.
“I passed along dad’s legacy to this organization with some of his tools,” Carrithers says. “I told them, ‘My dad would love what you’re doing, and this is from him.’”
Carrithers has put her passion for animal rescue to work by helping community cats who are spayed and neutered through the Alley Cat Advocates program and even has her own rescue cat Mocha at home.
Through the Nextdoor app, Carrithers found out about the Jefferson County Reforestation Project and volunteers her truck to help transport the threes. She even got her twin sister who lives in Georgia to pitch in by creating a flyer for the program using her graphic design skills.
“My husband jokes he would not have a social life if it wasn’t for people coming to borrow the truck,” says Carrithers, with a laugh.
Carrithers also occasionally volunteers her time to put wreaths or flags at grave sites and has even volunteered her time to help overwhelmed friends when they are moving.
“You can hole up in your house if you want to or you can go out and help,” Carrithers says. “If you’re having a bad day or are in a bad mood, go help someone else. It is way too easy to stay in your own little cocoon, but there is always work to be done and somebody out there to help.”
Volunteering for a new organization can sometimes feel intimidating, but Carrithers encourages people to reach out to organizations they’re interested in and ask if they need help. If something doesn’t work out, you can find a different project to support. The best experiences will be those tied to your skill set and interests, so find something that suits you.
“Try something out that you’re okay with, whatever arena that is,” Carrithers says. “You may not be in the right spot for you, but there is a right spot for you and it’s okay to learn that and move on.”
And while volunteering is not always glamorous and can come with some long hours, Carrithers looks at the bright side.
“You go home worn out but happy and with a smile on your face,” she says.