It is already mid-November and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Which means it is the third week of Gratitude Month. As you know, this month we are sharing stories about the people Living Well is grateful for—and this week we want to talk about volunteers and how they make our mission thrive.
Living Well is lucky to have a long list of supporters, clocking in at 900 volunteers contributing 6,000 hours of service in 2023. That is an incredible amount of work—work we didn’t have to fund—and we are beyond grateful! It is because of our dedicated volunteers that freezer meals are made and packaged weekly; yards are beautified in spring and fall; meals and materials are delivered to houses weekly; pet dogs visit; rooms are painted; documents are shredded; games are played and crafts are made at our homes; thank you notes are written … The list of volunteer opportunities and activities is vast and varied, and each project is meaningful and has an impact on our ability to get things done on time and with ease.
Today we want to call out a few of those 900 who deserve an extra shoutout. Living Well is lucky to have people who live with disabilities themselves sign up to help us. They show up repeatedly to dig into projects for us. Kathy Anderson, Volunteer Manger, says, “People with disabilities are often seen as only able to receive. But they give just as much, or more. I’m always excited to partner with people of various abilities to give back to our community. Everyone we are highlighting here is so very kind and generous with their time and positive energy. We have fun making a difference together!” It is important to all of us at Living Well that we acknowledge the help we receive from this incredible group.
ProAct is a day program in Eagan. Several people who attend ProAct volunteer with Living Well as part of their program activities. ProActs’s mission is to provide person-centered services that enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities in the areas of employment, life skills, and community inclusion. A group of four come each month and make freezer meals that will feed 12 houses with over 200 servings per week. Jessica Maurer, Development Assistant, works with them when they pack food, and says, “I enjoy them so much, and they have become my friends over time. I look forward to the days they come in, and we laugh a lot. They share their stories with me, and I really appreciate the relationships, and the work helps us stock our freezers! Working with the volunteers is meaningful to me and fills me up.
Another day program, MRCI, connected with Kathy last year at the Dakota County Chamber of Commerce holiday party. Their mission is to create innovative and genuine opportunities for people with disabilities or disadvantages at home, at work and in the community. One group of four come monthly to assemble meals at Living Well, as well as bi-monthly they deliver meals on a route to our homes. Another MRCI group deliver meals to our houses every week. Stacy Arnett, with MRCI, says, “We like helping out our community and love the new friends we have made.”
Kathy met representatives from Hastings STAARS Program (Students of Transition Age Acquiring Relevant Skills) back in October when they volunteered with Inver Hills Community College at Living Well for the college’s annual day of service – they played bingo with people supported by Living Well, as well as assembled freezer meals. The STAARS program is for post high school students with a range of abilities and disabilities who need assistance in making the transition from school to life in the community. The STAARS group has since started volunteering monthly with us to continue to make more meals.
We also have several people from Living Well who volunteer with us. There are three people who receive our Customized Services – Nicole, Rachel, and Tiffany. They are individually supported by their Living Well staff to assemble freezer meals every month. Program Manager Brenda Mohrland who supports Nicole says, “Nicole and I enjoy our time volunteering to make freezer meals for the homes. Nicole is a giving person. She works as a cashier for Goodwill. We have volunteered for other organizations in the past including stocking the food shelf in St. Paul Park and sorting clothing for the Arc’s Value Village. Making freezer meals is Nicole’s favorite so far. Not only do we like making meals for the homes, we also like the recipes. Nicole has made a version of Tator Tot Hot Dish a few times for herself. She says it’s a way to get her veggies in!” Rachel says, “I think helping people is fun. I learned about helping people from my parents. I also think Jessi (Jessica) is fun.” And Helen, Direct Support Professional who supports Rachel, has this to say, “It makes me feel happy that I can help other people. It also gives us a nice girls night out while helping others and doing something nice. And having FUN!”
A group from our Lyndale house comes to make meals monthly as well. And three other people that live in various Living Well homes come regularly to help with office work, while learning new job skills. Peggy writes thank-you notes and speaks with groups, Kari helps with filing, and Rodney shreds documents. They all help the weekly flow of office work remain smooth. Kari says, “I am trying to learn how to be a secretary, and I like being here. I like Cheri a lot. If you guys need any help, I can help you. And I like to have fun and be silly at times. I like to laugh.” Cheri Edwall, Administrative Assistant, says, “Seeing Kari each week makes me happy. She is always willing to help with any project I have for her, and she does it with a big smile!”
It really is amazing how much work our volunteers do for us year after year. To say we are grateful is an understatement! A huge round of applause and accolades to all who have and continue to volunteer at Living Well.
Ok, we talked about gratitude for volunteers. Now let’s quickly hear what Kathy and Rodney are grateful for.
Kathy— Since I was just at a college reunion, I’m grateful for life-long friendships that start up right where we left off like no time has passed!
Rodney— I like to come here (Northland offices) every week to see all my friends.
What are you grateful for today …