Author Paul Coelho once dropped a succinct yet impactful statement to the Twitterverse: “The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.”
For one Huntsville volunteer, this is not just a quote for inspirational memes and posters. It’s a way of life.
When Yetta Feltner was 12 years old, she experienced first-hand how impactful volunteerism could be. In need of open-heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect, Feltner’s parents were concerned about the tremendous cost the surgery and two-week hospital stay would incur.
When her doctors heard these concerns, they offered to offset whatever wasn’t covered by insurance for the small token of one 8”x10” school portrait of Feltner.
This generous act of volunteering time and talent to a child in need left a lasting impression on Feltner, which led to an ethos of giving that would remain present throughout her life.
Feltner, 64, is a retired accountant and her husband, Bill, 72, now works at Jacobs Engineering after retiring from NASA. They have lived in their South Huntsville home for more than 30 years and remain active in their neighborhood.
Enthusiasm for beautification
An enthusiastic participant of the Subaru Ambassadors program, Feltner feels a calling to give back to her community in meaningful ways. From wildlife rehabilitation to walking senior dogs for the Humane Society, volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club to helping maintain Casa Garden on Bob Wallace Avenue, Feltner volunteers around Huntsville an average of 10 hours per week, unless there is a large event when she will donate even more of her time. She views her retirement as time to stay active and connected.
This was especially important at the height of COVID-19 measures that kept many people isolated. Rather than staying secluded, Feltner looked for opportunities to pursue her passion for environmentalism. District 3 Council Member Jennie Robinson suggested to Feltner that she look into the City of Huntsville’s Operation Green Team.
“Ms. Yetta does amazing work for the City,” said Green Team Coordinator David Worley. “She’s one of my best, most dependable volunteers and her enthusiasm for beautification inspires other people at our cleanup events.”
She’s one of my best, most dependable volunteers and her enthusiasm for beautification inspires other people at our cleanup events.”
Feltner’s dedication to beautification and pride in Huntsville is contagious. She picks up, on average, anywhere from 10-30 pounds of litter per location during her daily cleanups. In three years of volunteering weekly with Green Team, she has never missed a day.
“She saves the City of Huntsville money,” Worley said. “We only have so many people on staff in charge of cleaning up litter around the 228 square miles of Huntsville, so when Ms. Yetta does such a good job cleaning up different areas, it allows us to send crews to other areas that need help.”
An ambassador for Huntsville
The proof of Feltner’s good work is in litter-free public spaces she and other volunteers help maintain each week. Feltner and her husband also clean up natural spaces when they visit other areas of the country.
Last year, the Feltners traveled to New Jersey to participate in a cleanup of the Pine Barrens with other Subaru ambassadors from around the U.S. The volunteers picked up more than 1,100 pounds of trash in about four hours.
Feltner takes these kinds of volunteer trips as additional opportunities to represent Huntsville.
“In a way, I get to be an ambassador for Huntsville, too,” she said. “Trash doesn’t just stop here. Operation Green Team loaned grabbers to help in the [Pine Barrens] cleanup effort. It’s a way to show that we are connected and we care, all the way from Huntsville, Alabama.”
The next generation
One of Green Team’s main objectives is to capture the attention of young people, educate them about conservation efforts – big and small – and help them grow into environmentally friendly adults.
“If you start the kids early, that really helps,” Feltner said. “The cleanup events [hosted by Green Team] are great because people bring their kids and it makes an impression.”
“She is a tremendous resource, and she sets a great example,” Worley said.
The Feltners believe that charity – or in this case, volunteer time and effort – starts at home. In addition to setting an example for young people, they help their neighbors when needed. As some of the younger residents of their subdivision, they occasionally receive calls from elderly neighbors who need assistance with small household projects.
Feltner emphasized that several people making small consistent contributions can lead to significant, impactful improvements.
“If you are walking in your neighborhood, or even at the grocery store, any place that you are walking and you see a piece of trash, take a moment to pick it up,” Feltner said. “It just takes a moment. You’re doing your part and you encourage other people who see you do it.”
National Volunteer Week
Since its inception in 1974, National Volunteer Week has grown from simply providing a time for businesses to encourage volunteerism to a movement that recognizes the transformative impact of volunteer service on communities and the world.
This National Volunteer Week, April 17-23, the City of Huntsville extends its heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers around Huntsville who contribute their time, passion, talent and voice to help make our community stronger and more vibrant.
The City of Huntsville welcomes volunteers year-round: