In the past year, the Heroes Among Us series has brought you stories of everyday helpers who make a difference. Our final chapter asks this question: Are you ready to take the plunge in 2021?
If the answer is yes, there are plenty of ways to be a helper, even during a pandemic. Here is one unique example that combines service and passion.
For the past several years, Jenny and David Carr have documented as many graves as possible through BillionGraves (BillionGraves.com)—a worldwide effort they learned about through an Eagle Scout project in Colorado. To date, they have documented 115,015 headstones in 132 cemeteries in eight states.
“And we’re not done yet!” Jenny says.
“BillionGraves is a great project,” Jenny says. “For every headstone photo you take with your smartphone, the app places a GPS tag with the picture. So, when you upload the photos to the website, you’re able to look at a map of the cemetery and find the exact location of your ancestors.”
Soon after discovering BillionGraves, David was stationed in North Dakota with the U.S. Air Force and dedicated himself to documenting area cemeteries.
“Once he got home, we started exploring the cemeteries closest to us when our youngest was a senior in high school,” Jenny says. “Once she moved away for college, we had empty nester time on our hands and a hobby to pursue! We now enjoy overnighters to towns with cemeteries a few hours away from home. These old Colorado mountain towns have so much mining history and a great Old West feel.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Carrs spent vacations documenting cemeteries in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts.
“We were able to document headstones pre-Revolutionary War era,” Jenny says. “The symbols, designs and markings are vastly different. It was absolutely fascinating to be amongst that kind of history.”
Most recently, they visited Burial Hill near Plymouth Rock.
“I was able to document the headstone of my 11-times great-grandfather, William H. Bradford, who was a prominent pilgrim on the Mayflower.,” Jenny says. “That was a sweet moment.”
Cathy Wallace, special projects coordinator for the Lehi, Utah-based BillionGraves, says taking photos of gravestones with the app is a great way to serve and stay active.
“Beginners who are just learning to use the app typically take about 250 photos per hour,” Cathy says. “That’s one every 15 seconds. Those who have more experience can take 400 to 600 per hour. How’s that for helping someone with their genealogy at the same time you are getting a workout?”
How to Get Started
The value of each volunteer hour in the U.S. is estimated at $27.20. With some 63 million volunteers nationwide, that’s a lot of value.
Several national organizations make it their mission to act as matchmaker between volunteers and groups in need. Here’s how to invest your own time to help.
Points of Light, founded by former President George H.W. Bush, allows would-be volunteers to search by type of opportunity, issue, ZIP code and keyword at pointsoflight.org. On the site, there is a need for everyone from cat cuddlers in Texas to equine event planners in Washington.
The United Way volunteer database at unitedway.org/get-involved/volunteer allows users to filter by skill, with needs for everything from information technology to crafting. You can find your niche whether you want to deliver Meals on Wheels in The Dalles, Oregon, or help with painting projects in Anchorage, Alaska.
Justserve.org has an “Opportunities from Home” button volunteers can click to fill needs for quilters, foster pet parents, mask makers, and crafters with knitting and crochet skills. If you have a skill not currently requested, you can sign up to be alerted when that task is in need.
Many states run volunteer service commissions, find yours at https://tinyurl.com/commission50.
ABOUT THE SERIES: Pioneer Utility Resources, publisher of Ruralite magazine, spotlights Heroes Among Us, sharing the unique stories of volunteers and difference-makers in communities across the Northwest and West. The series receives support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust—a private, nonprofit foundation serving nonprofits across the Pacific Northwest.