April is global volunteer month, and this week is National Volunteer Week, which makes it the perfect time to show gratitude to the volunteers we LOVE. It is hard to imagine, but in 2023 Living Well Disability Services had 1,026 volunteers, who together provided 6,551 hours of work. The level of commitment our volunteers showed over the past few years is exhilarating, and we are beyond grateful.

Mike and Dylan at The Thursday Social Club, Inver Hills Community College

When looking at the value of volunteers, the data and hours are just the tip of the iceberg. Volunteers support us by filling necessary tasks, but also in many intangible ways. Advocacy, leadership, referrals, education, and passion are all boosted when people outside the organization take an interest in our mission. A volunteer’s contribution of time and talent starts a ripple effect of good will that is priceless as we strive to demarginalize people with disabilities in our community.

With 36 homes, 300 people supported, 500 employees, and over 1,000 volunteers—we have a lot on our to-do list and need a LONG list of helpers. Each volunteer hour has a direct impact on Living Well’s mission of transforming the lives of people impacted by disabilities through the delivery of exceptional services. Regional Director, Adrienne DeRuyck, says, “Volunteers bring a little extra warmth to a home. Much of what they do is unseen, yet so impactful. The simple act of making freezer meals and having them delivered to a home means that dinner is ready to go and the focus can be on what the people who live there want to do, rather than getting dinner put together.”

When people show up to help us, it makes a difference!

It would take the entire internet to thank them all, so for space, we will share three stories, while thanking EVERYONE. Meet a student, a work team, and a family, all making a difference.

Patty, Jimmy and David at Kennelly

Student — Jimmy is a nursing student at Normandale College which requires students to volunteer 56 hours in an area of social justice. We currently have five students volunteering at five different homes. He is at Kennelly in Burnsville once a week as a Wellness Ally. They play games, like Wii golf, and do other activities like crafts. Socializing with the people that live there is also a key component. All of this is helping us fill a gap in services, while helping him learn about the nuances of health care with people with disabilities.

Sydney, another Normandale student, as Westchester with Mary

Kathy Anderson, Volunteer Program manager, says, “Jimmy’s enthusiasm is contagious, and we appreciate his sincere interest in learning more about disability services by connecting directly with people we support. All the Normandale nursing students are ensuring meaningful interactions with people as part of their education—it’s win-win!”

What does Jimmy have to say about volunteering? He tells us, “What I like the most about my volunteering time is that for me it’s a place I can go to relax, see bright smiles on people’s faces, and honestly, it gives me a break from school a little bit. And overall, this helps benefit my nursing goals by allowing me to work on my communication skills and opens my career path to different aspects out there. Allowing me not to only work on my people skills but helps me learn more about other people and how to help them in ways others can’t.”

BCBS doing Spring Yardwork at Selkirk last year

Work — Chris Reiten is a Living Well Board Member who consistently recruits her Blue Cross Blue Shield colleagues to volunteer with her in a variety of activities throughout the year. Together they have helped with yardwork and gardening, hosted the games at Family Fun Day, attended many STARS meetings, and delivered gifts during the holidays for our Giving Tree program.

Kathy says, “Chris and the BCBS team are consistently there for us. We are grateful for their ongoing support and friendship. They are a perfect example of what community means!”

BCBS helping at 2023 Family Fun Day

What does Chris have to say about volunteering? “The Blue Cross team enjoys supporting Living Well Disability Services because it offers us the ability to engage in a variety of ways – from special events to parties to yard work—and this really helps us feel like we are a part of the community and making an impact.” You can watch her tell us even more in this video from our STARS holiday party with this link.

Gabi and George assembling DSP gifts

Family — The Axinia family has been volunteering with us for over six years. They were originally invited to volunteer with their dear friends Kathy Henrickson, Heidi Reichow, and Alora Reichow (who won our 2022 Dreammaker Award). Arina Axinia and Alora have literally grown-up volunteering with Living Well and are graduating from high school this spring! Gabi, along with Heidi and Kathy, helps in variety of ways, including assembling and delivering freezer meals, packaging staff gifts and administrative projects, and gala preparations. They consistently volunteer at events like Staff Appreciation Day, Employee Recognition and Transforming Lives Gala. George helps out whenever he can! It is a true family affair.

Kathy says, “I’ve loved getting to know the Axinia family over the years. Their openness to doing whatever needs to be done to help out is wonderful. Gabi, as well as Arina and George are always so positive and supportive and have helped in so many ways, I can’t even count!”

Arina and her school debate team friends volunteering at the 2023 Gala

What do they have to say about volunteering? Gabi says, “Arina finds that any activity we do helps her expand on ways she can help her community and it makes a great impact on her as well. When it comes to the Gala, Arina said that being able to have her friends volunteer and help out as auction workers was a wonderful way she could get volunteer hours while also helping an amazing cause that bonded her with her friends a lot, too.” Adding, “Me and George always love volunteering whenever we have the time, helping with various projects or activities, and just finding ways to make the Gala a better experience for everyone is really important to us.”

As you can see, it takes a village, and a LONG list of volunteers to make an impact and meet our mission of providing exceptional services for people and families living with disabilities. Thank you to everyone who volunteers for Living Well and other nonprofits. Your work makes a difference!

And we’d be remiss if we forgot to thank Kathy Anderson for making so many meaningful connections possible. It takes a lot to coordinate and place our amazing volunteers with meaningful opportunities.

Thank you, all!

 

 

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