Donald Wray Hooper Jr. gets a lot of milage on his bicycle as he travels all over Marble Falls to volunteer, including at The Helping Center. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro
Donald Wray Hooper Jr. can be seen bicycling all over Marble Falls, going from Elevate Church to St. Frederick’s Baptist Church to The Helping Center to volunteer. He wears a helmet, a fluorescent yellow vest, and black-framed glasses with extra-thick lenses because he is legally blind.
“I can see, but everything is blurry,” he said. “There’s a building over there, it’s red. There’s a white sign, but I can’t read it. I read large print. I have an electronic tablet I use. I listen to a lot of audiobooks online.”
He also has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but hasn’t let that stop him from living a full life.
“In learning about the disorder. I learned how to speak up for myself,” he said. “I got to go to neat conferences with people with mental health issues and compare notes. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who deals with this stuff.”
The 51-year-old moved to Marble Falls eight years ago to live with his dad, but when the elder man decided to return to Austin, Hooper stayed put — a tough decision, but one he does not regret.
“I miss a lot of things about Austin, like bike lanes,” he said. “I miss bike lanes and the biking community.”
Volunteering has connected him to his new community.
“I learned to make Marble Falls home,” he said. “It took me a long time to do that. I’m learning to take life a little easy.”
Volunteering also has provided him with something meaningful to do and given him an extended family, Hooper said.
“It gives me a good feeling,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s a good feeling.”
Hooper helps load and unload trucks, serves as Elevate Church’s videographer, and works with families, including grandparents raising grandchildren.
“It’s neat to see the smiles on the kids’ faces,” he said. “They’re thankful for us being here to put in the hard work.”
Over the past 20 months, the pandemic has made things harder for everyone, Hooper said, but has also brought the community closer together.
He recalled one evening when he was distributing boxes with laundry detergent, hand sanitizer, sports drinks, and protein shakes at Elevate Church. Because of the pandemic, families lined up in their vehicles to receive donations. The trail of vehicles was so long it reached U.S. 281 from the church at 700 Gateway Parkway.
“The Marble Falls Police Department came,” Hooper said with a grin. “They didn’t know what was going on. The (supply) truck was late getting here. It had mechanical issues (so people had to wait).”
Training with the American Red Cross and his extensive experience volunteering have taught Hooper patience and how to have a loving, non-judgmental attitude toward life and the people he meets.
“I learned don’t judge, open your heart to people, to what they need,” he said. “There’s a lot they’re going through.”
He credits Sam Pearce, The Helping Center’s executive director, for opening his heart even more.
“I learned a lot working under him,” he said. “I learned how to be patient with people. I learned how to be empathetic.”
Hooper highly recommends volunteering.
“Go volunteer. Go make a difference in your community if you can do that,” he said. “I use my volunteerism as therapy because I stay engaged in the community. If you can find somebody to work with and willing to accept you for who you are, go for it.”