Volunteers touch lives in Douglas County
Just about any day of the week, volunteers can be found helping others in Douglas County.
Marcia Heyser's voice dipped and rose Wednesday as she told the story of two friends — an owl and a rabbit — swept up in a house-building feud. Children in Kirsten Standen's class at Brule Head Start leaned forward to watch the pages turn.
As a Bookworm reader through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Heyser has been bringing books to life since she retired in 1999 from the Maple School District.
"The kids love having different people read to them," Standen said. "It is a wonderful program, absolutely wonderful program."
A squad of Superior Rotary members wielded levels, saws and hammers Friday as they sided a new home in Superior for Western Lake Superior Habitat for Humanity.
"Shelter is really important," said Rotary member Ephraim Nikoi, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Superior-Wisconsin. "Any time you have an opportunity to help people get shelter, it's really an honor to do that."
Thanks to a flood of volunteers from organizations, businesses and unions, as well as donated or at-cost supplies, Habitat for Humanity can build a home for about half the price it would cost a private developer.
"Without volunteer work, this just could not happen," said Habitat for Humanity executive director David Clanaugh.
Even as the home at 1001 N. Seventh St., is being completed, the organization aims to break ground May 21 for another Habitat home less than a block away.
"What I notice about this region is an ethic of service that's unbelievable," Clanaugh said. American society has lost this "social capital," he said, but the Twin Ports area has held onto it.
On the third Saturday of the month, volunteers distribute food to their neighbors through the Rural Care & Share Food Shelf.
Ann Pellman of Brule makes it a point to talk to recipients about how to cook some of the food items they receive, such as dried beans and peas.
"It's important because I feel as if it's something I can do to help with the issue of hunger," Pellman said. "In these difficult times, I feel it's one thing that I can do once a month."
Volunteering offers rewards of its own.
Heyser, a former school nurse, spent time piecing puzzles together with the children Wednesday before making her way to the reading chair. Some youngsters reached out for hugs as she passed.
"You drive 80 miles round trip, you're here 15 minutes and you're gone again," said Heyser, who lives in Duluth's Lester Park neighborhood. Yet she does it every month.
"I think the country kids are special kids," said Heyser, a former Brule resident. "I guess I'm a country person."
She also relished watching her daughter, Standen, in action.
"My biggest joy is to see Kirsten with her kids. It really is as a parent. It makes me very proud," said Heyser, 75.
As a retiree, she keeps busy. Heyser is a longtime American Red Cross volunteer and made the decision to lend a hand at the Twin Ports VA Clinic in Superior three years ago.
"I think it gets people out of the house who are my age who don't know where to go, and I think also it shows what seniors can do in the community," Heyser said. "Because I'd sit and watch TV all day. This gives me something to get up and do."
Jeanette Rantala joined the Bookworm volunteers as soon as she retired from the University of Wisconsin-Extension's office.
"I knew I liked working with children and realized how important reading is for young children," said the Bennett woman.
She's been hooked ever since.
"I enjoy seeing the children and seeing them enjoy the books and stories," Rantala said. "The way they respond is delightful."
Reading isn't her only volunteer gig. Rantala served as a 4-H club leader for years and still serves as a project expert in the areas of sewing, knitting and horses. Her husband, Don, lends his expertise in fishing and biking to 4-H members working on projects. The couple has traveled to different states to work on Habitat for Humanity and Lutheran Mission Builders projects.
"I'm much too active a person," Rantala said. "I like to be involved in the community. Sitting around doesn't appeal to me."
Whether retired or working, living in the city or a rural area, there are volunteer opportunities available.
The beauty of being a volunteer, Rantala said, is that you can pinpoint areas you like.
"I think if you can look for it, you can do it," she said.
The possibilities range from stenciling storm drains and entering data to fighting fires, walking a dog or mentoring a child. They are all chances to make a difference.
"That would be our goal, to make a difference and just be involved in other people's lives," Rantala said.
National Volunteer Week runs through Saturday. It's an opportunity to recognize and thank volunteers who have lent their time, talent and support to the community. It's also a chance for people to search for their own volunteer niche.