Archive for Thursday, November 15, 2001

The family that volunteers together…

Nov. 17 is National Family Volunteer Day

November 15, 2001

When Stan and Deb Burnham volunteer together with Therapeutic Horse Riding Instruction of Lawrence, they take advantage of each other's strengths.

"Stan's very handy," Deb said.

When there's a problem with the trailer or the ramp, he's the one to take care of it.

"I'm more the horse person," she said.

National Family Volunteer Day, Nov. 17, recognizes the benefits of families working together, something Roger Hill Volunteer Center director Michelle Heller knows well.

"My kids have been dragged along, and they've had a good time," she said. "We've had some good experiences. You start them on these good habits."

Volunteering as a family may bring children in who are too young to handle projects on their own. Adults show children their responsibility to the community, which in turn benefits.

"It's a win-win situation," Heller said.

Plus, volunteering provides an atmosphere more conducive to quality time.

"It's meaningful time spent together, unlike watching TV," Heller said. "When you volunteer together you see each other in a different way."

When the Burnhams volunteer together they take turns caring for the THRIL horses the couple keep at their home as well as working with their church, St. Paul United Church of Christ, and the American Royal Rodeo.

"I'm usually the one that starts," Deb said. "I end up bringing Stan along. I say, 'I think you'd enjoy helping me with that.'"

Laura Hibberts also brought her husband, Steve, into volunteering through her own involvement. The Eudora pharmacist got involved with the MS 150 bike ride six years ago, initially out of a love for biking. But since she serves several multiple sclerosis patients the event has taken on a different meaning.

When Laura decided to participate in the ride, which this year ran from Topeka to Lawrence and back to Perry, her father joined her out of a desire to get in shape. Three years later, Steve and Laura's mother joined them in the effort. While Laura rides, except for this year when she was pregnant, Steve runs the SAG (support and gear) vehicle, which picks up tired cyclists.

"At the end of the day whenever the tour stops you have your family there with you," Laura said. "It's a really big opportunity for me, and it's fun to show that with your family."

The bike ride isn't the only volunteer opportunity that lends itself well to families. Heller said even in addition to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Douglas County having a program specifically for family pairings many other agencies welcome family participation, even without a specific program.

For instance, senior citizens can benefit from whole family participation. Brandon woods retirement center in Lawrence welcomes families to adopt grandparents, decorate for holidays or spend time with residents in other ways. Douglas County Senior Services meal sites, like at Pinecrest, provide a good opportunity as well, Heller said.

"People can help serve meals or just visit with the seniors," she said. "Anything like that goes a long way with people."

Day of Caring, a community-wide volunteer day each September that places volunteers at sites throughout the community, is another good place to start, Heller said.

Families can find opportunities to volunteer at home, where they can collect pennies, canned food and clothing for donation to appropriate agencies. People who want to be involved in nature can make bird feeders or pick up trash in a park.

"There's a lot of things you can do when you think about it," Heller said. "There are a lot of ways to think outside the box."

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