Volunteering and Giving Back
How It Helps You to Help Others

Volunteering is so much a part of life in our region that it’s hard to imagine things otherwise. With Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center and a high per capita number of nonprofits and schools in the Rochester area, volunteers really keep things going. When I moved here in 2006, it was clear that there were many needs and many opportunities. I jumped in at the public schools, serving on the PTSA and in the school garden and science fair. That led me to many other friends and roles.

The call to community service can also be found at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, based in St. Paul and serving all of our state’s 87 counties. I caught up with two very busy volunteers there who work in their Americorps Seniors Senior Companion program. Peggy Bjortomt and Bonnie Johnson are both paired with women who are similar in age and who live in their communities. Their role is different from other caregivers’: It’s mostly social and just to have fun.

Peggy has worked with Rita, who is actually a former teacher of hers, for about a year now.  Peggy lives in the Spring Valley/Preston/Wykoff area too, so it’s an easy trip once a week to check on Rita, who recovered from a fall last year at age 85.

“My motivation is that I like to help people,” says Peggy. “When I helped my own mom, she would say to me, ‘You are good at this.’ So I knew that I wanted to bring those skills to others.” Peggy emphasized that her role with Rita is not medical, nor like family, but more like a friend.  “With my flexible schedule, I can take some time with Rita to water her flowers or sit with her and watch ‘Jeopardy’ or take her to get her hair done. She’s a big hugger, and we both get those endorphins from hugging. It’s these little things that can mean so much to her, and to me.”

Bonnie Johnson, who participates in the Steele County Senior companion program, agrees.  Her person, Mary Jo, is also in her mid-60s, and so the pair are well-matched in terms of age and interests. Like Peggy and Rita, they have been visiting once a week for about a year. Most recently, they went swimming in a lake together. Mary Jo, who has MS, hadn’t done that in a long time.  

“It’s a win-win for both of us,” says Bonnie. “If one of us is down, we cheer each other up. I just like helping people. It makes me feel good that people ask me for help, that I have something to give. Despite being in sales for much of my life, I still feel that boost to my own self-esteem when I can give of myself.” As a former high-level volunteer for the Federal government CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) through FEMA, Bonnie likes the relative simplicity of the LSS Companion program. “Once a week we get together. Sometimes Mary Jo will come to the house, or I go to hers, and we work on crafts and personal care or watch television. We talk and laugh a lot.”

That is the essence of volunteering right there. Giving of yourself and doing what you can, when and where you can. Building community, one hour, one visit or one project at a time. There’s nothing better, especially with lots of talking and laughter thrown in. 

About Author

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Anastasia is a volunteer, mom and gardener. She also loves reading, running and enjoying time with family and friends.

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