2017-01-12 / Front Page

Emily Johns promises that volunteering is rewarding for all parties involved

staff writer

Emily Johns has been a community volunteer since the age of 14. Emily Johns has been a community volunteer since the age of 14. “I’ve seen so many blessings and friendships form from volunteering,” Emily Johns said. “It’s really important simply because when you’re a part of a community, it’s like being a part of a family – it’s a larger symbol of family.”

Johns has been a volunteer since the age of 14, and over the past four years she has learned not only the importance of sowing in time for the benefit of others, but that it’s a way to bring together and preserve the community.

Currently, Johns’ focus is primarily on helping The Robert Toombs House. “I got to be a part of the community in this way, and a lot of kids in school don’t get to do this unless it’s a part of a program,” Johns said, noting that she herself was homeschooled. “Being homeschooled provided me with the freedom to do this, and it’s been such a blessing.”

Portraying the Ghost of Christmas Past is just one of the roles Emily Johns assumes at the Robert Toombs House Historic Site. Portraying the Ghost of Christmas Past is just one of the roles Emily Johns assumes at the Robert Toombs House Historic Site. From hoop skirts and empire waisted gowns, spouting out rehearsed histories of General Toombs, his wife Julia, and the longevity that they left behind in Wilkes County, to greeting guests with a smiling face and even the hard work of preparing for living history programs, Johns has proven her dedication to sharing the past with anyone who will listen.

“By working at historic sites specifically, we’re not just working for the community, but we’re working for the past,” Johns included enthusiastically. “We can learn from the past, and I think if more people volunteered there wouldn’t be a lot of the tensions that we have today.”

Johns began her service at the Toombs House through her sister Kaitlin, and the intrigue of history, coupled with a love for acting, set her heart on steadily dedicating her time to the site.

And what may have started as an effort to serve the community has turned into more for Johns – through her dedication to the home, and thirst for knowledge, she is now employed at the Toombs House. While she admits that she spends much of her time cleaning, Johns flashed another smile and said she doesn’t mind the work. She still gets to interact with guests at the house, providing them with stories and information, along with helping with other daily tasks to upkeep the home.

“Slowly I’ve gotten more of a feel for who Robert Toombs was, and I really fell in love with him,” Johns expressed. “He wasn’t perfect, but he was a man who seemed to learn from his mistakes, and I want to be like that.”

She went on to explain that “we’ve got more of an intimate scale on things in our small town, so why not relish that and enjoy it?

“Being at the Toombs House is so peaceful, and so many things have happened here that I want to keep alive,” Johns said. “Not only do I teach people, but they teach me, and being a volunteer means you have to be open to learning from other people.”

Museum Curator Marcia Campbell agreed that volunteering is a wonderful way to facilitate learning, along with growth in individuals who commit their time to helping.

“Our community takes ownership of the museum, and by taking part in helping, children are able to learn a lot from being here, especially intrinsic things,” Campbell explained. “Volunteering for our living history programs builds confidence, and it builds self-esteem, for adults and young people alike.”

Campbell noted that volunteering provides certain insights into the house that “you just don’t get from the tours,” something that stands true of volunteering at any historic site.

Not only is Washington unique in its many historical outlets for volunteering, but Johns further emphasized that the community as a whole has many opportunities for volunteerism.

Johns first began her community service at God’s Marketplace, and from there she began assisting at The Washington Little Theater with its drama camp, as well as acting in some of the productions.

“Helping with drama camp is tremendous not only for the kids, but for the volunteers too,” Johns said. “Even if you’re not an actor yourself, you can learn by being a part of it.

“Seeing kids who are afraid to get on the stage and make a complete 180 is wonderful,” she continued, “By being on stage and working together as a team, it’s amazing to watch them find a part of themselves, to find courage, to stand up for themselves, and put their own two cents in on things. Then they turn around and apply it to their own lives.”

According to Johns, it doesn’t matter how old someone is, it doesn’t matter where they come from, they simply have to be willing to take the initiative to give back to the community, promising that it is rewarding for all parties involved.

“It’s quite a character builder, and you’ll do things that you thought that you wouldn’t do, and you’ll do things that you don’t want to do sometimes, but it’s worth it,” Johns said. “You know, a lot of kids feel like they’re stuck in this small town, but for me, I love it and I always look for an opportunity to help.”

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