ROSWELL, Ga. — It takes a lot of volunteering to be recognized by the President Barack Obama. But that’s what it took for Roswell residents Rowland Matthews and his daughter Fiona to claim their Presidential Volunteer Service Awards. The pair have logged hundreds of hours dedicating themselves to selfless pursuits since 2008.
“We’ve tried to instill with our girls that you are here to serve others,” Matthews said.
Together with his wife Kathy and Matthews’ 17-year-old daughter Fiona, the family routinely volunteers at their church, the East Cobb Church of Christ, and has traveled extensively throughout the Southeast and nearby vicinities to help those in need. Be it the tornado victims in Alabama or building an orphanage in Cozumel, Mexico, wherever there is a need, the Matthews family is likely to show up to help.
One of the biggest efforts for Matthews and Fiona was when a vacation to Japan last year turned sour.
“Last year, we had booked a 35-person tour to go to Japan for 10 days,” Matthews said. “The tsunami hit in March [three weeks before they were to depart]. Of the 35 people, only two people still wanted to go. Me and my daughter,” Matthews said. “When we saw the follow-up of a 30-foot wave wiping out entire cities, we knew there had to be something we could do.”
The two of them set off for the Land of the Rising Sun, carrying camping supplies and T-shirts saying “Atlanta [heart] Japan” and made their way through survivors and aid workers alike until they set up in a warehouse in Tokyo and began sorting through donations for the victims. They would collect goods as they came from trucks and cars and sorted them out to be sent to the affected residents.
“We would get up and be there at 8 o’clock and roll out the pallets [of goods],” Matthews said.
Cars would drive up to their warehouse packed with goods and pop the trunk. Volunteers would run out and pick it up and then the car would drive off.
“There were no receipts,” he said. “They were very trusting.”
Even whole boxes filled with cash were donated, he said.
Matthews is half-Japanese. His mother was from Japan, married a G.I. and ended up in Tennessee when Matthews was born. He and Fiona took the opportunity to deposit his mother’s ashes in a Shinto shrine while they were there, adding to the emotional impact the trip had on the pair.
A UPS employee, Matthews said the company has been very helpful in assisting with his volunteering, for which they also have programs in place to help with both volunteering and disaster relief.
Matthews received a gold pendant and three silver pendants, while Fiona received three gold, one silver and one bronze pendant, along with personal certificates and a congratulatory letter from the president of the United States, Barack Obama.
The Presidential Volunteer Service Awards was established in 2003 to recognize the valuable contributions volunteers are making in our communities and around the world to encourage more people to serve. The President’s Council on Service and Civil Participation created these awards as a way to thank and honor Americans who, by their demonstrated commitment and example, inspire others to engage in volunteer service. Each bronze award represents 100 or more hours of service within a one-year time frame, the silver award represents 250 or more hours in a year and the gold award is given to those who have volunteered more than 500 hours of their time in volunteer service in one year.
“We feel driven to do it because of the way we are,” Matthews said.