Bush’s Points of Light Foundation helps Parkersburg volunteer center

Former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush, greet people paying their last respect to his father former President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday. (AP Photo)

PARKERSBURG — The Points of Light Foundation — founded by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 — helped the Volunteer Action Center in Parkersburg.

Bush created the foundation as a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., to promote the spirit of volunteerism. In his 1989 inaugural address, President Bush spoke of “all the individuals and community organizations spread like stars through the nation, doing good.”

Jenny Keup was director of the Volunteer Action Center in Parkersburg from its founding in 1994 until around 2006, when she became executive director of the West Virginia University at Parkersburg Foundation.

When the VAC was formed, it became affiliated with the Points of Light Foundation. “Three months later, we were awarded $1,000 and a trip to D.C. in recognition of our Make A Difference Day project. It helped the Salvation Army establish a shelter for the homeless who needed case management to get back on their feet,” Keup said.

During the formative years of the VAC, the local organization was mentored by the Points of Light Foundation, she said.

“It steered us toward various grant opportunities and connected us with others who did similar work. Because of that, we were able to build programs, such as our information and referral line, which eventually became part of the statewide 211 information help line,” Keup said.

The VAC started FaithLink, which still serves about 250 homebound people with their daily needs.

The VAC, housed in the Dils Building, connected thousands of people to volunteer service in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Keup said.

The Points of Light Foundation often underwrote Keup’s travel to national volunteer conferences, she said. At one of the conferences, in Florida, Keup met President George H.W. Bush, who spoke at the conference. Bush talked about the need to serve others in the community and how he appreciated the work of volunteers.

“He (Bush) showed a sincere interest in what we were doing and I was very happy to personally thank him for the many ways his vision had changed so many lives in our area,” said Keup, who now lives in North Carolina.

“President Bush was the epitome of what we should expect from our leaders. His vision was similar to John F. Kennedy’s, in that he didn’t ask what our country could do for him; he strived to see what he could do for our country,” Keup said.

“I sincerely hope that young people today take a lesson from his life, one that was so well lived. People like President Bush live on through the work they’ve done and we’ve all become the richer for it,” Keup said.

For many years in the local community, the Volunteer Action Center, with Jenny Keup as its founding director, served as the key connection point for both persons willing to serve as volunteers and organizations in our community needing volunteers, said Judy Sjostedt, executive director of the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation. VAC encouraged school-aged young people to volunteer as well as seniors and corporate individuals, she said.

The Parkersburg Area Community Foundation was privileged to join the VAC’s works both as a partner and funder for some of the organization’s projects and as a manager of its funds, Sjostedt said.

“Our organizations executed a variety of projects together over the years. We received two successive Points of Light Foundation ‘Service as a Strategy’ award grants that were funded through the Ford Foundation,” Sjostedt said.

Sjostedt attended the same conference as Keup in Florida where President George H.W. Bush spoke.

“What I recall most about President Bush is his manner; he was very personable, and affable. He made it a point to personally meet and speak with each of the volunteers and their organizations receiving awards. I was impressed by how approachable and encouraging of our work he was,” Sjostedt said.