When Eastover resident Matthew Perkins retired several years ago, he never could have guessed that retirement would bring him the opportunity to be a source of empowerment in his community and that his new role would earn him national accolades from a former president.
Perkins has been named a recipient of a National Points of Light Award for his years with Richland County Court Appointed Special Advocates (RC CASA), which is committed to recruiting, training and supporting community volunteers who serve in the role of Guardians ad Litem for abused and neglected children entangled in the Family Court system. Perkins’ commitment and success as part of RC CASA have led to his recent recognition as a “point of light” – an honor established by former President George H. W. Bush in 1993 as a way to recognize the individuals across America who demonstrate the power to “spark change and improve the world” through community service.
Perkins retired from International Paper in Eastover, though he stayed active volunteering with youth through the Richland County Recreation Commission and eventually offered his time volunteering for RC CASA.
“I believed I could help make a difference for these kids, especially after I learned that 70-80 percent of the cases were minorities,” Perkins said.
Now, 10 years later, Perkins is working again as a full-time employee with RC CASA, serving in a supervisory role after more than 8 years of volunteering with the organization. Though Perkins’ position is to oversee volunteers, he continues his own casework as well.
“I grew up in a single-parent household, three boys, welfare,” Perkins said. “I’ve been in these children’s shoes. There’s not much they can tell me that I haven’t lived through, and I think that’s what helps me connect to them and show them direction, show them it can be OK if you set some priorities and think hard for yourself.”
Perkins attributes his national award to the success of the RC CASA establishment as a whole, noting Director Paige Greene’s leadership and the compassion of his fellow Guardians ad Litem as the pathways to his personal achievements. Perkins is most proud of the “CASA Quarterbacks” program, which is devoted to recruiting and retaining local adult males as volunteers.
“The fact that (through CASA Quarterbacks) we now have 100 black men as volunteers is truly significant,” Perkins said. “It’s hard for some of these children to set a goal for something they’ve never seen accomplished. They think ‘how will this all work out for me, when it’s never worked out for anyone in my family?’ For them to see these men as role models is truly important.”
Paige Greene, director of RC CASA for more than decade, sees Perkins’ dedication and positive influence on a daily basis, which led her to nominate him for the award.
“I am humbly blessed to work every day with Matthew,” she said. “His selfless giving and spirit of wanting to help others is amazing.”
As part of his Points of Light Award, Perkins will receive a certificate signed by former President George H. W. Bush. Perkins is humble about the national attention and continues to focus on the daily and long-term successes that he can contribute to RC CASA.
“I feel good about what I’m able to accomplish, but I can’t help but think there’s always something more I can do,” he said.