Rhonda Sanders sat at a back table at Lion Hill Center, occasionally dabbing her eyes, moist with tears, with the tissue she clutched in her right hand as she listened to Ralph Null’s introduction of the 2020 Book of Golden Deeds recipient.
The Book of Golden Deeds is presented by Exchange Club chapters across the country to those whose community service goes above and beyond. The Columbus chapter has been presenting the annual award since 1972.
For Sanders, it was like listening to her own eulogy as Null ticked off the long list of acts of community service Sanders had either performed herself or directed, a big part of her job in law enforcement for almost 30 years, first with Columbus Police Department and now with Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department.
Beyond that role, Sanders, along with Julie Parker, is co-founder of the Community Benefit Committee, formed to meet the needs of the homeless and those with emergency needs.
Null noted that community service is at the heart of all the Exchange Club does, but Sanders’ efforts often reach out to the sometimes forgotten, often ignored people in the community.
“So much of our personal activities are aligned with our own neighborhood support,” Null said. “But the really big and important question is, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Christ’s admonition far exceeds (that). … It extends to the far reaches of the neighborhood that many of us would prefer to ignore. This was the guiding principle that helped us to decide on this year’s Golden Deeds (winner). … Perhaps the old saying, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’ is most appropriate phrase to identify the 2020 Book of Golden Deeds winner.”
Through her efforts with law enforcement and the Community Benefit Committee, Sanders has been involved in a wide range of services, including establishing Neighborhood Watch programs and hosting the annual Haunted House, which provides fund to purchase bicycles for children at Christmas. It’s also as met emergency needs for individuals in the community, such helping a homeless woman move into an apartment earlier this year.
Sanders spoke briefly as she accepted the award.
“I’m humbled,” Sanders said. “What I do — what we do — half of it couldn’t be done without the support of the benefit committee and other people in the community and without having a good boss.”
Sanders said she was particularly proud of the way the community has responded to her requests for support.
“Can you imagine coming home after working 12 hours and having to choose between paying the light bill and feeding your children? Can you imagine coming home after a 12-hour shift and sleeping on the floor because you can’t afford a bed and feed your children at the same time?” she said. “The money we raise with the Community Benefits Committee goes for things like that. We’re here to help, no matter who you are, what color you are or where you live.”
Later, Sanders acknowledged that recent events nationally have cast a shadow on law enforcement. The recognition she received Tuesday, she said, is a reminder that law enforcement officers throughout the country serve their communities.
“The thing I say about law enforcement is that some people are made to serve and some people were born to serve,” Sanders said. “I like to think I was born to serve.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]