Volunteers create new programs for all

By Lisa W. Miller

On December 5, there’s a little-known holiday that deserves a bit more attention and fanfare, especially in today’s environment — it’s National Volunteer Day.  

Dallas United PINK is a competitive dragon boat team comprised solely of breast cancer survivors.
Photo courtesy of DUC

 Dallas United Crew (DUC), a 501(c)3 non-profit, started as a high school rowing program nearly 20 years ago and has since grown to six distinct programs. Three of DUC’s outreach programs were built on the shoulders of volunteers who had a dream, and fortitude to make that dream a reality. Understandably, it takes a village to create change, but without the spark, passion and leadership of a few people, dreams sputter never seeing the light of day, and ideas are relinquished to mere concepts on a piece of paper. Here are just a few of the many DUC stories about visionary volunteers as they make a difference and leave a productive legacy behind.

Chuck Mueller, a retired Army veteran, had the vision to create a rowing program for disabled wheelchair veterans that would enable them to enjoy the recreational and fitness benefits of rowing, as well as compete in regional and national rowing competitions, including the world’s largest regatta, The Head of the Charles, in Boston, Mass. 

Mueller forged new partnerships with USRowing, the Veterans Administration and Paralyzed Veterans Association Lone Star Chapter to create DUC’s Adaptive program. Six years later, in talking to Mueller about the joy this program brings to these wheelchair veterans, he still gets choked up: “I’ve never seen anything but smiles on their face when they come out of the boat, and they come back to land. And that makes it worthwhile, each and every time we introduce somebody new to the program.”  

Debbie Kehoe, a 25-year breast cancer survivor (BCS) and dragon boat paddler arrived in Dallas with a paddle in hand, yet there was no BCS team in Dallas. 

She had to travel to Houston and other cities to paddle and compete. In 2016, in collaboration with others, Kehoe founded Dallas United PINK, a competitive dragon boat team comprised solely of breast cancer survivors. Kehoe reflects on the power of paddling with her BCS sisters: “To me, there is such strength when you have all these paddles hitting the water, at the same time repeatedly, they go, and they go and get stronger and stronger.  That teamwork and togetherness are not only helping them recover physically, but even more importantly they are recovering mentally; they all realize that they are in this together and we are all supporting each other.”

 Paula Miltenberger, a mother of youth rowers, began researching how DUC could become more diverse and inclusive. In 2019, she made a call that would forever change the trajectory of these efforts. 

That call was to Arshay Cooper, who had just published his book, “A Most Beautiful Thing” — the story about the first all-African American high school rowing team and how rowing changed his life. Two years later, RowDallas is a successful collaboration with the City of Dallas and Dallas ISD introducing the sport of rowing to underserved children in the community. Miltenberger says: “I have witnessed the positive impact that a sport like rowing has on people. We are so proud that Dallas ISD and Arshay have partnered with us to make that opportunity available to more students in Dallas.”

Cheers to these visionary volunteers for seeing an unmet need and filling it, and to all DUC volunteers that make these programs a success today. 

There’s a saying that sums up the importance of volunteers, “I love people that have no idea how wonderful they are, and just wander around making the world a better place.” 

Happy Volunteers Day!