We were thrilled to get news at Triad Health Project this spring that our board member, friend and passionate advocate, Geoff Atack, was selected as the recipient of the 2019 North Carolina Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award. Over 20 years ago, I took a job in Greensboro at a house of healing and hospitality for persons infected with HIV & AIDS. Within my first week, I met Geoff Atack, a man of quiet presence, compassion and dedication, the last of these attributes evidenced by the remarkable fact that he’s still with us, freely offering his gifts of care, labor, discernment and love to a highly stigmatized and vulnerable population. If there were ever a soul worthy of recognition for volunteerism, this is surely one.
I find that I almost never think of Geoff as a “volunteer,” per se; rather, he’s been integral to a family dynamic – past, present and future – that really defies category. He is friend and brother, confidante and activist, advocate for many and a voice for those too wounded or afraid to use their own. He has also been a teacher, a profound listener, a mourner, celebrant and visionary. Geoff is, at heart, simply a very good man; and it occurs to me that his kindness does not come from any philosophy, promise or creed but rather from a heart built exactly for that. In that way, he is a (reluctant) model for all of us: he is driven by love and care for their own sake.
Higher Ground, where Geoff has gifted untold hundreds of hours, is a space of radical hospitality and inclusion that routinely welcomes people enduring generational poverty, addiction issues, homelessness, severe mental health diagnoses, food scarcity, limited educational opportunities and a myriad of complex health issues, all of which are exacerbated a hundredfold by an HIV diagnosis — which carries its own burdens of shame, fear, cost, grief and loss. Geoff’s presence itself speaks of uncompromising welcome and his actions cut through exterior circumstances to the heart of the people he serves so beautifully. The list of the ways he has helped is practically endless – feeding families, cleaning our little house for our guests, offering transportation, clothing, shelter, providing employment means, participating in every fundraising effort, and on and on. To me, the mark of an exemplary volunteer is not necessarily one who will load and unload a dishwasher literally hundreds of times; it’s one who will do so with joy. This is Geoff Atack.
Higher Ground has always been guided by a “Mission Group,” a small covenant of people who meet weekly to support, brainstorm, measure and even pray for the work of our house. Geoff has served on this group for two decades – and now he is serving his first 3-year term on the Board of Directors of Triad Health Project. The front-line wisdom and experience he brings to the table is incalculable.
Geoff’s work with us is not done, but his legacy is intact. What an honor it was to present Geoff with this award at one of our regular gatherings at Higher Ground. I hold him up as a man who has transcended the role of volunteer into a way of life: kindness, care, compassion and undying devotion. We just might be able to partially measure the lives he has touched; we will never know the lives he has saved.