After both of John Bollinger’s grandfathers passed away while he was in high school, one from thyroid cancer and the other from a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, he decided to volunteer in their memory.
Since 2016, Bollinger has helped seniors and people living with disabilities through A Helping Hand, a Durham-based nonprofit that helps individuals maintain their quality of life and independence. As part of the organization, Bollinger spends time with clients and provides transportation to and from appointments, makes meals, shops for groceries, and cleans bathrooms and washes dishes.
Bollinger, a Duke junior double majoring in biology and global health with a minor in chemistry, is the recipient of the 2017 Lars Lyon Volunteer Service Award, which highlights the work of a Duke undergraduate student who has exhibited a strong dedication to service. The undergraduate must be nominated by a faculty or staff member, a fellow student, or representative of a Durham nonprofit or public school.
“To be recognized for something you like to do and because you like to help people is just validating and so amazing,” Bollinger said. “(A Helping Hand) really stuck out to me because I was honestly looking to form some sort of relationship with an older adult because I had lost both of my grandfathers in the recent past. I wanted to rebuild and recover from losing the both of them, especially since they both wanted to see me get into college and that both of them didn’t make it far enough to see me get into college, let alone accepted.”
The annual award is named after Lars Lyon, a mechanical engineering student who came to Duke in 1985 and volunteered with organizations such as Circle K International and Ronald McDonald House as well as served as vice president of Play Units for the Severely Handicapped (PUSH). Lyon died at 21 years old after a battle with cancer.
As part of the award, Bollinger receives $12,000 toward the cost of his 2017-18 tuition. The financial aid is funded by Lars Lyon’s family and friends to continue to promote Lyon’s commitment to volunteerism and community service.
“Duke students are doing wonderful things in the community, and it feels good to recognize the work that students like John are doing,” said Domoniqúe Redmond, assistant director of programs for the Duke Community Service Center. Redmond receives and reads the Lars Lyon Volunteer Service Award nominations every year. “Through the support of the Lars Lyon Memorial Endowment Fund, Duke is able to support a student financially as he or she continues to matriculate through Duke.”
The most important part of volunteering, Bollinger said, is to provide companionship, whether that means having conversations with clients about their family or life experiences or attending social outings with clients.
“One of the most difficult things to do is to slow down and take a walk in another person’s shoes,” Bollinger shared about his experiences with A Helping Hand. “However, (a client) looked at me one day and said, ‘My family doesn’t visit me. You’re like my family now.’ … I know that I want nothing more than to devote my life to the health and general wellbeing of other people.”
After he graduates from Duke in 2018, Bollinger plans to attend medical school.
Bollinger was nominated by Steffi Tornow, volunteer and internship coordinator for A Helping Hand. She said Bollinger began at A Helping Hand as an unpaid service learning intern in 2016 and continued to volunteer with the organization. Through the organization, he has worked with six Durham residents who are low-income, disabled, socially isolated and who lack transportation.
“John is highly invested in the community and is making a profound difference in the lives of seniors and adults with disabilities in Durham,” wrote Tornow in the nomination. “His ability to build relationships and offer an unparalleled level of service has improved many individuals’ quality of life.”
Bollinger and other Duke leadership and service award recipients will be recognized at an “In the Spotlight” event on April 20 at the Duke Arts Annex. The event is sponsored by Duke University Center Activities and Events (UCAE).