With 36 homes, 300 people supported, 500 employees, and a lingering staffing crisis, it is pretty clear that we have a lot on our to-do list! And with so much to do, it is probably obvious that 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. We have lots to accomplish every day, and not enough staff to do it. So, when people show up to help us, we know it makes a difference! We see the benefits of our volunteer program in real time, and that makes our hearts and homes happy. From yard clean up, freezer meal prep, painting, moving and activity participation, to showing up at the homes to read, play games, listen to music, or simply sit and chat—our volunteers get it. And luckily for us, they keep showing up!
April is global volunteer month, and this week is National Volunteer Week, which makes it the perfect time to honor and show gratitude to the volunteers we LOVE. With over 500 volunteers it would be hard to share their individual stories and their reasons for helping, but we want to try! Please take a moment to read about individuals, a business, a church team, and a student intern whose work is separate from each other, but in combination with all our volunteers, integral to our mission.
Kate and Burt
Kate Heimer and Burt Hedstrom first volunteered with Living Well during Covid when the world shut down in a hurry and left them wanting to help but unsure how they could make a difference in a safe way. While still juniors at the University of St. Thomas they started volunteering every month preparing freezer meals. Over time they added to the repertoire and have now done pretty much everything they have time for. Kate and Burt have made deliveries, done yard work at our houses, helped with some office assembly projects, volunteered at the Tapemark Pro-Am golf tournament on our behalf, helped at our Gala, and have done pretty much every opportunity we offer at least once. They were even part of a crew of over 25 volunteers honored at our 2021 Transforming Lives Gala as Dreammaker Award recipients. You can watch them on the Gala video here, forward to minute 50:42.
Kate and Burt both love the time they spend with us. Kate says, “Volunteering with Living Well offers me the best opportunity to give back to my community in a meaningful way. My experiences supporting Living Well have expanded my ability to connect with and support these individuals and has changed my worldview for the better.” And Burt adds, “Volunteering with Living Well provides such a unique opportunity to give back to a community I love. I truly enjoy the deeper sense of connection with my local community that comes with working with employees at Living Well, serving with friends, family, and neighbors, and interacting with the wonderful individuals that Living Well supports.”
Kathy Anderson, Living Well Volunteer Program Manager, says, “I so appreciate their kindness and genuine commitment to doing whatever they can to support Living Well. They started in Covid times and continued advocating for us all these years later. This ongoing and growing partnership has been so lovely to watch blossom.”
Advent United Methodist Church
Advent has been partnered with Living Well for a long time. Initially focused on our Diane Road home, as one of the parishioners has a daughter there, they have expanded their involvement over time. Every year they have an Advent Cares Day, with one Saturday every summer dedicated to giving time to community and organizations. During one of these days, we met Jack Trainer, who came out to help paint the interior of the home. Now a few years later, he leads a group of painters every Advent Cares Day. He advocates for the Living Well projects and pulls together a team to paint and freshen up homes on that day. It’s not even summer yet, and already this year they painted the entire inside of our newly revamped house, Star Lane (see details on Star Lane in a coming blog). Advent also sends multiple teams to Living Well to make meals together, do some spring cleaning at Diane Road and even made Halloween craft kits. Every year they gradually expand how much they work with us, and they even donate in addition to helping.
Jack says, “Advent United Methodist Church in Eagan first started supporting Living Well after a member of our church family moved into one of their group homes. It means a lot to Advent to help financially as well as by volunteering their time. It is especially rewarding to be able to support Living Well—as they support that family in our church.”
Another connection made from Advent United Methodist Church are Cal and Kris Robertson.
Back in 2018 Cal and a team from Advent came to make freezer meals when the program was just getting started. He loved the idea so much he donated a freezer so we could keep production of meals up with the need. He and his wife, Kris, have done Giving Tree deliveries, donated funds and items in addition to volunteering, and recently helped people move into Star Lane. Cal is our main contact and a huge advocate for us at Advent United Methodist Church. He always comes with Advent Cares Day but also volunteers separately with his wife.
Kathy says, ”Our work with Advent has opened the door to multiple volunteer opportunities that are part of Advent Cares and outside of that one special day. Creating relationships with Jack and Deborah Trainer and Cal and Kris Robertson has been so much fun. It shows how connection with community can grow over time, and why volunteer opportunities are crucial to our growth and reach.”
For over five years now Surly and their community giving branch, Surly Gives a Damn, have been pulling together people from area neighborhoods to volunteer. At Living Well, they primarily garden and do major yard and landscape projects that save us both money and time. We have met several great groups of volunteers as they do up to three projects a year for us, and they always show up ready to work. Sometimes it is a returning crew, and sometimes we get a whole new batch of advocates. They are always high energy and eager to get busy. From digging up dead bushes, demolishing raised garden beds, moving, and laying tons of mulch and dirt—they do hard work that many volunteers are just not up for. They willingly show up and do the literal heavy lifting. Surly volunteers have had a huge impact on the usability of the yards at our houses, and we would have to pay for it without their efforts.
Mary Sellke, Executive Director Surly Gives A Damn, says, “Surly Gives A Damn has been partnering with Living Well since 2017. During that time, we have been able to pitch in and lend a hand at many residential homes. From cleaning up garden beds to transforming yards with new plantings and mulch, we could not be prouder to work with Living Well Disability Services and help them live their mission.” Mary works as the project coordinator and is passionate about the work.
What makes this partnership unique is it is a corporate program that brings in new audiences because they promote it as a way to give back for their patrons, not just staff. Surly promotes volunteer opportunities on their website and at the brewery, and it is a great way to meet new people. And to make it extra fun, every person who volunteers gets a cold beverage after the event. We are so appreciative of their work, advocacy, and willingness to make sure we have volunteers at the houses. They have even donated beverages to our gala for the past two years.
Kathy says, “Mary is just such an incredible person to work with. I appreciate her passion and commitment to make sure Surly is able to help in a unique and special way each year. Everyone has so much fun, and they bring lots of energy to the houses.”
Eryn Hammes, Living Well Intern
Eryn is an intern from Augsburg University who has been with us since last fall. A senior social work student, their focus has been on creative activities that help people with self-expression, communication, and mindfulness. Eryn frequently presents at STARs meetings where they lead activities. They also send an email to the houses every month with creative activities that staff can do with people at the homes. They provide directions and direct links to where to buy the supplies. This allows busy staff to assist with the projects without a lot of effort or shopping time. Eryn also visits the homes and does activities with people directly. Over the past several months they have been to 10 houses to do activities, where they spend a couple hours at a time. A popular visitor, each house who has had Eryn visit asks when they will be back!
Eryn says about their time with us, “Volunteering at Living Well and getting to know the people here has been an extraordinary experience. To be able to combine my love of art with my passion for social justice and advocacy with such a kind and loving community has been a wonderful experience that I will carry with me throughout my career. I hope that my work here has positively impacted the people here even a fraction of how they have impacted me. All I can say is, thank you Living Well.”
Kathy says of her intern, “I’ve loved watching the growth Eryn has shown over the 10 months they have been with us. They have really gotten to know people well, and therefore been able to meet the people where they are at, because they truly understand the people we serve. They provide them with creative activities that are personally meaningful. They found the best ways to capture everyone’s personalities and craft ideas to match the homes.”
As you can see from this small sample, the people who volunteer with us are truly amazing! From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU! Without your support and kindness our days would be less full and our yards would likely be extra messy.
This place is special, and we hope you will agree. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Kathy at Kathy.email@example.com. We have numerous opportunities and can often tailor times and activities to your needs and availability. Individuals, business teams and families are encouraged to inquire.