When it comes to volunteering at Girls Inc., there is nothing Bill Johnson won’t do. From mentoring and coaching sports to landscaping and bus driving, Johnson does it all — but his favorite part of the day is greeting the girls as they get off the bus from school.
“We high-five and hug, and they are so enthusiastic and energized. I love it,” says Johnson, who is affectionately known around Girls Inc. as “Mr. Bill.”
Johnson was recently recognized for his volunteer work at Girls Inc. by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and the Wilson Wood Foundation, which presented him with the “Unsung Hero” Award. Each year, the two foundations partner to recognize unheralded individuals in the community who are recommended by anonymous “spotters” throughout the area. A committee of volunteers chooses three winners.
Johnson began volunteering at Girls Inc. two years ago at the suggestion of his wife, Mary Lou. Johnson had never heard of the non-profit organization, which inspires girls to be “strong, smart and bold,” through mentoring programs and activities, but after one meeting with Executive Director Stephania Feltz, he knew that he wanted to get involved.
Johnson first began volunteering as part of the “GI Guy” program, which pairs Girls Inc. girls with male mentors in order to provide the girls with positive male role models.
“When I first started going I was the only guy in there. It was odd,” says Johnson. “Now, the girls all say, ‘Hi, Mr. Bill.’”
It didn’t take long for Johnson to go from mentoring to taking on the role of facilities manager.
Johnson’s own two girls, his daughters, Randi and Erica, have also gotten involved with Girls Inc. Randi, interned there over the summer in the counseling program, and Erica gave her father the gift of 20 hours of volunteering this past Christmas.
“I go to them whenever I have a question about something going on with the older girls,” says Johnson of his daughters. “They’re my sounding board.”
Johnson spends 25 to 30 hours per week at Girls Inc., mentoring, coaching sports, landscaping, tree-trimming and sometimes just chatting with the girls about what’s going on in their lives.
“Sometimes, I’m the only person standing between a girl and a really bad day or a really bad decision, but I love what I do,” says Johnson. “I wish I had more hours in the day to do more.”
Contact Maria Amodio at [email protected]