Volunteers make a positive difference for young people
Those who volunteer often do it quietly, unobtrusively and without wanting or needing any attention or fanfare. During National Volunteer Week, however, organizations who utilize the donated time, skills and talents of individuals or groups lending a helping hand take advantage of the time to showcase and thank their volunteers. This year, that week is celebrated April 6-12, providing a time to celebrate people doing extraordinary things through service. Volunteers can be found in Tecumseh and the surrounding Lenawee Community in the schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and nonprofit organizations. Tecumseh resident and long-time educator George Eidson, now 82, has been a volunteer as a Rolling Reader through Communities in Schools of the Tecumseh Area for more than a decade. “I think someone came to Kiwanis and talked about volunteer opportunities,” he said. George first tried a different program, but soon found his niche, reading to Kathy Smith’s second graders at Herrick Park Elementary School where the former Lenawee Intermediate School District Assistant Superintendent is known simply as “Mr. George.”On Thursday, March 27 at 1:15 p.m., George took his familiar chair in the corner of Smith’s classroom and took a moment with the youngsters to talk.“You know what made me very happy?” he asked the students. “At my wife’s funeral, there were flowers from you. I have them in my house and they are still nice. That made me very happy.” George’s wife Marge passed away on March 9. “They love Mr. George,” Smith said of her students. “Part of being a reader is understanding life experiences you get through a book. He’s good at talking about life and explaining words they might not know. He relates with them.”What makes George’s dedication as a volunteer even more personal is he has macular degeneration.“Before I go there every Thursday, I have to read the part of the book I’m going to read and half memorize it,” he said. George also prefers to select the books himself, whereas some volunteers have the teachers select the titles. In his tried and true past as an educator, George said he likes to bring in classics such as “Black Beauty” and “Lassie Come Home,” which he was reading on Thursday. “I have a great copy with pictures. They’ll listen for a long time with that one.” What does he get out of it? “When you can walk down the street and see young people anywhere above second grade come up to you and say, ‘Hey, Mr. George!’” he said. “There are kids everywhere who will remember you came to their class and read to them. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was.”Paula Trentman, Program Manager for the Lenawee Community Foundation (LCF) with headquarters in Tecumseh, said LCF also helps match volunteers with opportunities to serve and often coordinates activities.“We know that area nursing homes need volunteers, just to visit residents, among other needs,” said Trentman. She added that one agency that often struggles with finding volunteers is the Department of Veterans Affairs who need drivers to take people to appointments, often in Ann Arbor to the VA Hospital. The Lenawee Humane Society also regularly welcomes volunteers, as does the Catherine Cobb Domestic Violence Center, which is often in need of volunteers to collect or sort donations.“Some of these agencies are open 24/7,” Trentman said, adding that there’s a time of day to suit most anyone’s hours. LCF also has a youth component called Lenawee YOUTH Council that Trentman works with.“This year we have a grant for Global Youth Service Day, and we’re going to be packing bags for children who may not have enough to eat over spring break,” she said. The activity will take place at Adrian Middle School 7-8 on April 2 from 6-7 p.m. “We’ll also decorate sacks for weekend packs that we also sponsor.”Opportunities for adults and even families may be explored on the LCF website at http://volunteer.lenaweecf.org, through a “Hands On Connect” page. The site also can track volunteer hours for those who wish to have that information available, such as students who will be writing essays for scholarships or college or job applications. LCF also has a Resource Guide that is regularly updated with local agency contacts.“We just help people find a spot that fits them and their times,” Trentman said. To contact LCF, call 424.6569.Lenawee United Way also coordinates volunteer activities, and holds an annual Day of Action. In 2013, more than 500 volunteers gathered to work on 48 separate projects in the community. On its website, United Way states, “This is a reflection of our community coming together to help Lenawee United Way to live out the intention to improve lives in measurable and lasting ways by mobilizing hundreds of people around a common goal: advancing the common good.” Lenawee United Way often lists volunteer opportunities on its webpage at www.lenaweeunitedway.org. The phone number is 263.4696.ProMedica Herrick Hospital is another agency that depends on its volunteers, primarily through its Auxiliary.“Volunteers are vital and a tradition,” said Tim Jakacki, president, during a recent interview about the hospital. “When you think back through the history of health care in this country, hospitals were run by volunteers, and that tradition continues. I don’t know as I even know of a hospital that exists that doesn’t have a volunteer force of people willing to give their time. It’s certainly an indication of the level of commitment and passion that goes into what they do. They do it because they want to do it.”See the Herald’s Thursday, April 3 edition for Part 2 of this story on volunteering.