Richton Park man recognized for volunteerism, community spirit
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent July 25, 2012 1:56PM
Darnell Langston won a volunteer award for his work with senior citizens who meet in the Richton Park Community Center. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media .
Updated: August 27, 2012 10:35AM
Darnell Langston says life is “all about getting involved in your community.”
The 56-year-old Richton Park man, recognized as an “outstanding volunteer” in his town, said he learned that lesson early in life from his mother, Wanza Langston, when he was growing up in the Chicago Housing Authority projects at 22nd and State streets.
“She was president of the building council, and she had all of her six children involved,” Langston said. “That’s where my volunteerism started. It’s the spirit of my mother.”
By the time Langston was 16, he was helping out with the Wheelchair National Basketball Association in support of his friend, Bob Trotter, who had polio from early childhood. Langston worked his way up in the association from water boy to coach.
Trotter also was involved with wheelchair softball — and is in the National Wheelchair Softball Association Hall of Fame — and Langston said he was part of an era that produced seven such Hall of Famers.
Langston went on to attend the University of Illinois (“My mother was very keen on education,” he said), married, and began raising his family. A heavy workload as an information technology supervisor left little time for volunteer work.
Then fate stepped in. After a long day at work in 2007, Langston fell asleep at the wheel and got into a horrible car accident only a mile or so from home. He suffered spinal, leg and hip injuries and was unable to return to work.
Langston found a way to turn the accident into a positive, eventually using his free time to become a volunteer in the community, riding his bike to meetings and events despite his daily pain.
“Being a concerned citizen, you get in where you fit in,” Langston said.
He “fit in” in a big way with the senior citizens of Richton Park.
Langston was a recent recipient of the 37th Annual AgeOptions award, “Celebrating Aging Outstanding Volunteers,” for his volunteer work as an active liaison for the Carriage Creek Senior Residence in Richton Park and for his work as co-chairman of the Richton Park senior citizens advisory committee.
Langston said his volunteer work began when he attempted to get friends at Carriage Creek involved with community events, a move that Richton Park officials encouraged.
A discussion with Langston becomes animated when he talks about some of the events senior citizens have gotten involved in over the last few years, and it reveals his enthusiasm about helping them enjoy life.
”Anything they like, we encourage them to try,” Langston said, his face lighting up.
That includes jigsaw puzzle team competition, bingo and a Senior Citizen Fun Day. Langston hopes to get seniors started on Wii bowling as well.
Langston also has worked with kids sports “for years” and has volunteered for the last five years when cyclists come through Richton Park for the annual International Cycling Classic.
“We may not have the most volunteers. We may not have the most amenities. But we have the most hospitality,” Langston said. “They like coming here.”
As a member of the Meadow Lake Homeowners Association, Langston helps with its holiday “adopt-a-family” program.
Langston concedes it requires sacrifice to be an active volunteer. He said that “unless your family is on board, it can be difficult.”
Langston’s family — Sandra, his wife of 25 years; and their children, Danielle, 23, and Darnell II, 13 — are on board.
Langston said his volunteer time may extend to almost every day of the week at times because of his membership on a number of village committees in addition to his Sunday school teaching duties at St. Bethel Mission Baptist Church in Chicago Heights.
“The blessings you receive make it worth it,” Langston said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”