Have you ever heard a song with such beautiful lyrics and think who that song is dedicated to? Who would compel someone to write such thought-provoking, warm sentiments? What are they like? What do they look like? 

More often than not, we create this imagined persona that is similar to someone close to us. For example, Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” had you think about your baby girl more than Stevie Wonder’s daughter. And “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys is more than likely dedicated to someone’s significant other, sending whoever Brian Wilson meant the song to be for into obscurity.

And maybe I am a strange individual with too much time on her hands, but I certainly think about those people. The people to whom songs are dedicated. I want to thank them for being so wonderful that they ignite something within an artist that we all now enjoy and dedicate. These faceless, nameless heroes are the ones to thank for my breathlessness as I sing at the top of my lungs while I’m stuck on the 101.

I wonder if all these people to whom songs are written know how significant they are to the world and our culture. I reflect on these people and can’t help but also be reminded of all the other nameless, faceless people who play significant parts with very little recognition in the work we do every day. Volunteers. These incredible people remind us constantly that you can always play a bigger role without needing or receiving any credit.

Since coming back from the pandemic, over 125 volunteers have:

-Volunteered about 900 hours, of which they helped

-Distribute food to over 825 families

-Assemble over 600 hygiene kits for our neighbors experiencing homelessness

-Assist over 30 students with their college essays and resumes

Often times the story that gets told is of those impacted. The student who got help at the College Mentorship event and is now at UCLA; the single mom who got her taxes done for free at a VITA event in Pico-Union and can use that money to purchase school uniforms for her kids; the person experiencing homelessness who happens to open up a hygiene kit on a particular night to clean up a bit. These are the stories that everyone wants to hear. And while it’s certainly not wrong to hear such motivational stories, what goes unnoticed is the people behind the scenes. Those volunteers who invest time, energy, and space to give back. 

You may not know their names or recognize their faces while you go about your day-to-day, but they have contributed towards our mission to create LA’s future.

In honor of National Volunteer Month and to simply say THANK YOU, I wanted to dedicate a song to all of our volunteers. It’s a timeless song because it’s been covered so many times by so many people throughout the years. The song is “At Your Best (You Are Love)” by the Isley Brothers (or Aaliyah or Frank Ocean; take your pick) because “at your best, you are love,” and all of our stellar volunteers indeed are “positive, motivating force(s)” within our lives.

May your acts of service be like repeatedly covered songs and create a legacy of service like no other. Thank you for all that you do!

Dedication to all of our volunteers

-Denise Ocana is Partner Engagement Manager at United Way of Greater Los Angeles