United Way: Volunteering helps build meaningful relationships

Molly Schemm is a KU senior who volunteers for StopGap Inc. StopGap is a nonprofit organization located in Lawrence and was created at the grassroots level to assist youth between the ages of 15-21 in claiming ownership of their life to become successful individuals.

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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.

When Janet Mills suddenly lost her husband of 59 years last spring, she couldn’t bear to spend hours and hours alone in their home. So she sent up a flair to Allyson Leland, director of volunteer services at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Mills needed to fill her schedule with volunteer work, STAT.

“I told Allyson I was going crazy and asked her if she would help me,” Mills said. “She absolutely did.”

Mills not only filled the empty hours with extra volunteer shifts at LMH, she also took a new volunteer position at Trinity In-Home Care, serving as the front end manager for this social service agency that provides supportive home care services and respite to caregivers. Trinity was so thrilled with all that Mills does to serve their clients that the agency nominated her for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award. She and more than 50 other volunteers were recognized for their significant contribution to the community at the 2014 Celebration of Volunteers on Thursday.

The friendships Mills has formed as a volunteer have had a significant impact on her life, especially in the hard months following her husband’s death. “Some of the women brought us food, visited, and sat with me,” she said, recounting how her fellow volunteers at LMH rose up to support her. “They have turned out to be my extended family. I feel needed, and they have provided me with belonging, something to do. You get so much more than you put into it.”

“One of the biggest benefits volunteers experience is the opportunity to form new, and often deep and enduring, relationships with fellow volunteers, agency staff members and the people they serve,” said Shelly Hornbaker, coordinator of the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center. “Volunteering gives you a chance to connect with lots of new people, many of them folks you might not have a chance to meet any other way. Frequently the friendships transcend the volunteer experience and can be life-changing for the volunteer.”

Forming personal connections is also what drew Molly Schemm to volunteer for StopGap Inc., which provides support for youths aging out of the foster care system. Schemm, a senior at Kansas University, teaches StopGap’s outreach program, which helps these students develop the skills they will need to survive in the world once they are 18, and, for many, completely alone.

“I thought StopGap was where I needed to be because I wanted to be a person in someone’s life who said, ‘Yes, you can!'” said Schemm.

“At the beginning of each semester of our outreach program the kids are very unruly, won’t listen, talk over everyone, twirl around in their chairs, throw papers, etc. – you get the picture. Well, she claps her hands to get the kids’ attention. Then, in softly spoken words, she discusses their aspirations. They seem to quiet down right away as though they have a sense of peace,” said Justine Burton, the CEO and founder of StopGap, who nominated Schemm for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award.

“We work on essential skills most kids would get from their families, like how to open a bank account, how to apply for a job,” Schemm said.

As she works with the students, they begin to trust her and friendships develop. So far, 100 percent of the students have graduated from the class, a testament to the personal connections Schemm forms with them.

“If I can walk away and one of these kids’ lives is changed, they go to college and graduate, or get a successful job, I think I will have succeeded in my goal and I have really made an impact. I want to give these kids a sense of hope and a sense of purpose and desire to succeed.”