About this story
Micki Chestnut is communications director for the United Way of Douglas County, which provides occasional features spotlighting local volunteers and charities supported by the United Way.
Jim Ballinger and Jerry Foree know how to make creepy things happen just through the power of their minds. They can send books tumbling off a bookshelf, vases crashing from the wall and records flying out of the record cabinet.
It’s not telekinesis. It’s just what happens when two retired guys who love to build things spend their free time volunteering to create sets and develop props for Theatre Lawrence.
Got a minute? They have lots of stories about the crazy stunts they’ve pulled off and technical marvels they’ve achieved in the years they have volunteered at the theater, slinging hammers and having a ball.
Mary Doveton, executive director of Theatre Lawrence, is so thrilled by how much this dynamic duo contributes to the work of the theater that she nominated them both for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award.
“I told Mary Doveton I would almost pay to come do this,” said Ballinger. “I like to build. I have loved to build forever. In fact, I got my first jigsaw when I was 5, and I’ve still got it.”
“It’s fun to come in here and do something creative that people appreciate when they come see the show,” Foree chimed in.
These guys are the perfect poster children for one of the widely experienced but often overlooked benefits of volunteering: It’s just plain fun.
“Volunteering can be one of the most enjoyable things you can do in your life. You get an opportunity to try all sorts of fun new things and meet all kinds of fabulous people,” said Shelly Hornbaker, coordinator of the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center. “It’s fun with a purpose, which makes being a volunteer even more gratifying and addicting.”
Paige Schmidt will tell you the same thing. A junior at Kansas University studying elementary education, Schmidt’s schedule is packed and life can get stressful. That’s why she looks forward to her volunteer teaching gig every Wednesday, when she gets to hang out with the Little ZOMBIES at the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority.
The ZOMBIES project aims to prevent and reduce childhood obesity in youth who receive housing assistance by increasing regular participation in physical activity and nutrition-based eating. The acronym stands for “Zoning-Outside-Movement-Body image-Ingredients-Exercise.”
Schmidt said she’s in heaven when she gets to pull out the paper, glue and glitter and do crafts, read stories and romp around on the playground with these kids, who range from preschoolers to 1st graders. And the Housing Authority is in heaven to have top-flight volunteers like Schmidt staff programs like these. Schmidt was their pick for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s Wallace Galluzzi Volunteer of the Year Award.
“It’s a nice opportunity to get off campus and go hang out with some really neat kiddos,” Schmidt said. This future teacher enjoys this opportunity to practice the skills she’s learning at KU and use the activities as a springboard to spark in the ZOMBIES a love of learning.
“One boy was doing an activity on nursery rhymes and he asked me the meaning behind the rhyme Ring Around the Rosy. That one is kind of grim,” she said. “I didn’t know all the details, so we found a YouTube channel on nursery rhymes. After he watched a few of the videos, he said, ‘This is kind of scary, but I kind of like it!’”
All three of these fun-loving volunteers, plus 50 more, were recognized for their service to the community during the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s 2014 Celebration of Volunteers on Thursday.