2015 - 2016 Youth Volunteer Award Recipients
Left to right: Lucas Robinson, Nathan Varvel, Francis Floeder, and Madison Renberg.
Madison Renberg, age 14
I have always known that it was important to serve others. I have always wanted to make a difference in someone’s life so service has always been very important to me. However, I never would have known how much my service to other people would change my life.
This year I began attending Hill-Murray School where we are required to do one service experience per semester. My first service experience that I participated in was helping at a funeral. That day God really opened my eyes and I just felt that this ismy calling. From that day on I was doing service every week. Instead of hanging out with friends, I would volunteer at the senior center. Service became a huge part of my life. Then fall came and I saw my elderly neighbor Walter raking the leaves. I had never really met Walter so I figured that this would be a perfect time to introduce myself, by offering to help him rake the leaves. I helped Walter finish a three-hour job in about an hour. After we were finished, Walter’s wife Eyvonne came outside and introduced herself. She asked if my dad and I could help her fix the seal on her garage. The next day we went over to Eyvonne and Walter’s house to fix the garage. Eyvonne told us that her kids lived far away and that Walter had just had a stroke, so she was very grateful for our help because she usually had to do things by herself. It made me feel really good knowing that I was making a difference in someone’s life.
This past November I had the opportunity to volunteer at Ecumen Senior Care Center. I have always loved working with seniors, but this time it was a little bit different. Most of the residents were suffering from some form of memory loss. This was more difficult for me than any other time that I’ve volunteered at a senior living center before. It was really sad to see people forget their names, where they are or what they were doing. The lady that worked there told our group that many of these people have families that live around the area, yet nobody ever comes to visit them. I walked away that day different from how I walked in. I realized how important it was to visit these people, because many of them don’t get any visitors at all.
I have had many opportunities to serve at Hudson Outreach Meals for Everyone or H.O.M.E. Although it is not specifically targeted towards elderly people, the majority of the people attending are elderly. Most of the people at H.O.M.E either don’t have a home or are struggling financially. My job at H.O.M.E is usually to help people with limited mobility get their food as well as bussing tables. After I’m finished working I have a chance to socialize with people and eat the meal being served. One thing that I was very surprised by was how willing people were to share their stories. Some of them would talk about their lives as kids and how much things have changed since then and some of them would talk about things that weren’t so easy to hear. I realized that these people just wanted someone to talk to, because many of them had lost their husbands or wives.
Experiences like these are the most rewarding for me, because loneliness is worst than just about anything else, so to be that person that these people can talk to is unbelievably rewarding.
I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have had to serve, especially those in which I have served the elderly. By doing service I thought I was just making a difference in the lives of others. However, it has also changed my life more than I would have ever imagined.
Francis B. Floeder, age 18
Mr. and Mrs. Weiskopf would often pass our home during their evening walks. They were always so nice and pleasant. Sometimes I walked with them and enjoyed hearing about their trips to various places around the world. They were joyful people and a real blessing for the neighborhood. However, one day I noticed that it was just Mrs. Weiskopf walking by herself. Her feet shuffled a little slower than usual, and her shoulders were slumped. I learned from my mom a short while later that Mr. Weiskopf finally lost his battle with cancer.
So, I began thinking. What could I possibly do to help her? Flowers would wither and die; and simply saying that I was sorry for her loss didn’t seem like it was enough to me. Being the owner of the Floeder Brother’s Lawn Service, I knew right then a more meaningful way to show her I cared. From that day on, Saturday was when I would come to mow her lawn.
The first time I mowed her lawn, Mrs. Weiskopf was at a loss for words. I could see the true thankfulness that radiated from her quivering lip and misty eyes. Immediately, she offered me money. Normally, all of our customers over age of 60 receive a reduced rate, but this case was different. I needed a way to show her that there were still people that loved her and would be there to help with the little things. After much discussion, we settled on a can of Coke as a way that she could show her appreciation to me every week.
From that time on, I and one of my brothers or dad would go over every Saturday to mow her lawn. Walking behind the mower gave me a lot of time to just think. My life was slowly being changed. I don’t know if she ever realized this, but she was helping me a lot more than I was helping her. She gave me the opportunity to grow as a person and show that there are young people who still do care about helping others. The unfortunate passing of Mr. Weiskopf grew into something beautiful. Mrs. Weiskopf now has a larger network of people who love her, and I hope to continue my journey helping people by entering College Seminary.
Mrs. Weiskopf helped me develop more in my life, but volunteering for me started long before this. The summer after my fifth grade year is when I first entered the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in Minneapolis. Every Saturday I go to prepare, serve, and clean up breakfast for people, mostly homeless people or those in the drug and alcohol rehab programs. Over the years I have developed many relationships with a number of the guys, and I really look forward to Saturday mornings.
There is a wide age range of the men and women at “the army.” There are people who seem to be in their early twenties to some as old as 65. I love all these people. You know, when I first went to “the army”, my dad told me something on the ride over that I will never forget. “Frankie, do you know who you will be serving in the line today? You will be serving Jesus.” I specifically help the elderly or disabled people carry their tray through the line, and help them to their seat. What a joy it is to give a smile and a kind word, and sometimes even get one in return.
I also have a special affinity to people with special needs. This grew out of my friendship with Nathaniel who had many physical problems due to some unfortunate medical malpractice when he was a baby. Unfortunately, he passed away in the sixth grade. That hurt a lot because he was a person full of love. In fact, his great love inspired me to start a program I call “Nathaniel and Me.” It focuses on educating kids in elementary school about respecting and caring for others, particularly those with physical or mental challenges.
I haven’t been a formal volunteer at a nursing home or senior living center, but this hasn’t stopped me from making an impact in these places. I enjoyed playing piano in these venues. In the fourth grade, my class had the privilege to deliver Meals on Wheels to a variety of senior living homes once a month. More times than not, the gratitude shown from them was a gruff “thank you.” However, it was always worth it for me because of the times when we would deliver a meal to that one smiling old lady or the man who loved to show us a puzzle he was working on. Also, I loved visiting military veterans in the V.A. hospital simply to learn more about them. I was even blessed to meet Stan “Killer” Kowalski, a renowned wrestler.
I think that, for a lot of reasons, people in my generation tend to be much more focused on themselves rather than others. Fortunately, my experiences with Mrs. Weiskopf, Salvation Army, and Nathaniel really helped shape my view of life. Most importantly, we need to love everyone unconditionally because we really are encountering Jesus in our everyday lives. The best way I believe to spread this love is through personal witness in the little things as described by St. Therese of Lisieux. Just think of how the world would change if my generation would think of doing the little things in life with great love. Something as simple as a smile of hug can mean a lot. When an elderly man at the Salvation Army saw me hug my dad, he was brought to tears remembering his lost son. Hugs now happen regularly.
The notion of service in my generation is certainly lacking. I guess it makes people uncomfortable to spend time with the elderly, or with the poor, or with people who have special needs. Maybe they only see the limitations or the frailty. I see Jesus. I see opportunity. I understand that when you open your heart to love others, you will always receive more than you give. I hope to continue with my mission of serving others throughout my life, God willing, as a Catholic priest. Someday, I hope to walk again with both Mr. and Mrs. Weiskopf.
Nathan Varvel, age 17
“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday,” Abraham Lincoln once said. I am seventeen years old and I am a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Minnesota. The quote above describes one idea that I have believed my whole life; as a man grows older, he often grows wiser. I enjoy the company of senior citizens and like to learn from them. I believe that my generation can learn a great deal from older adults.
I have had many volunteer opportunities and over 20 hours to assist and learn from seniors. Last summer, I mowed my elderly neighbors, Sam and Esther’s lawn every other week for no charge. I also committed to visit another elderly neighbor, Hank, every few weeks and brought several dinners that my mom made for him when his son was in the hospital. In addition, as a sophomore in high school, I volunteered twice a month to serve dinner and bus tables for diners at Creekside Center, a local senior community center. I am proud to say that these experiences have affected my life dramatically. I also believe that our shared experiences have positively impacted the seniors too. While volunteering and spending time with seniors, I have found that they have influenced my way of thinking, taught me in many ways, and have left a lasting impression.
Firstly, the influence of the elderly on my life has been huge. Whether I was volunteering at Creekside Community center or visiting and playing cards with my ninety-five year old neighbor, Hank or mowing the lawn of the elderly couple next door, I have always been able to take something away from the conversation. A good example of this would be when I was having a conversation with Hank about what he had done for a living. He informed me that he studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota and then volunteered to join the U.S. Navy. Then he asked me what I was planning to do after high school. I had some ideas, but I didn’t really have an answer. He told me that whatever I chose as a career, that it should be something that I love to do. With this in my mind, a couple of months ago I decided that I would like to go to college to study environmental engineering. I love nature and making more efficient products that help the environment. However I never had time to tell Hank this because he recently passed away. I believe that he would have agreed with this decision because he knew my love for fishing and the outdoors.
Another good example would be my next door neighbor, Sam. I have lived next to Sam and his wife, Esther for more than 8 years now. Through the years Sam has had struggles with his health, but I have never seen Sam without a smile on his face. About a year ago Sam was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Sam had to spend more than six months in the hospital and care facilities. When he returned home, even though he was still very weak, he was never sad or depressed. Now, every time I think that I am having a hard time or if I am angry about something, I just remember Sam and I realize that everything isn’t as bad as it seems.
Secondly, while being with the elderly I have learned valuable information. An example of this would be when my neighbor, Chuck, who is also a senior, taught me how to make a garden. Last summer I decided that I wanted to make a garden in our backyard so I could grow lettuce, strawberries, and other good vegetables. I asked Chuck for advice on what soil to get and how to plant seeds, knowing that he was a big gardener himself. He informed me on everything I needed to know about gardening, from how deep to plant a seed to what fencing to get to protect my garden from rabbits and other creatures. He even gave me a couple of his plants from his garden to plant in my new garden. Thanks to Chuck and his wisdom on gardening I had a bountiful garden of vegetables and fruit last summer and hopefully will for summers to come.
Thirdly, volunteering and working with seniors has immensely impacted my life. As a sophomore, my sister and I went twice a month to Creekside Community Center to volunteer serving food and busing tables for the elderly and the homeless. After everyone came through the line and received their food, the volunteers were able to sit down and chat with the folks there. I remember one night, my sister and I sat down with a gentleman named Sam. He was about seventy years old and was a very interesting man. He was a pilot, married his high school sweetheart, and even studied at Harvard University. He was a successful man after becoming an engineer, yet he was eating the dinner at the community center, where no questions are asked if someone cannot pay for the meal. I learned that Sam is a man who doesn't need much or want much and is very humble. While having a conversation with him about what he likes most about Creekside he said, he loved “the people and the food”. After meeting Sam I realized that even with successes you can still be modest and humble. Now, in my life I try to think like Sam and appreciate the small things in life.
In conclusion, volunteering and helping seniors has been very important in my life. Whether it is mowing the lawn of my elderly neighbors at no charge, or visiting with my ninety-five year old neighbor, Hank, or serving dinners at Creekside Community Senior Center, I have always enjoyed spending time with seniors. The influence of seniors on my life and the things that I have learned from them will carry forward with me in my life. I hope to continue to volunteer to assist senior citizens in similar and new ways in the future.
Lucas Robinson, age 17
For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. ~Matthew 25:35-40, Douay-Rheims Bible
These words from scripture epitomize how all people are called to live their lives each day. From very young on, I have had the privilege to volunteer with and alongside the elderly in many ways including visits at nursing homes, volunteering at a local food shelf, and helping elderly neighbors with their many needs. Through these bountiful opportunities I have experienced the joy of helping others, seen the happiness in those I have served and have been told how my service brings hope to the community.
My family and I have always volunteered at nursing homes by visiting with residents, serving masses and caroling at Christmas time. When my grandpa became ill when I was little, we took care of him in our home for three years until he passed away. Although I don’t have many memories of this because I was so little, my parents have shared with me how much joy and love I brought to him each day by my smiles, laughter and little antics. I extended that love when I was older to the residents of several local nursing homes. Most recently, I was able to get to know an elderly man after serving a nursing home mass. He shared many memories with me about being a bachelor and a hard laborer his whole life. I didn’t talk much, but just listened to what he wished to share. I think he liked me just being there with him. I remember him being grateful for my visits and always happier upon my departure. I don’t think he had any family who visited him so I felt that my visits helped him feel less lonely.
Another rich opportunity I have had is volunteering at a local food shelf once a week since July 2015, helping unload and place food on the shelves. A friend of my mother’s had mentioned that the older people volunteering needed some youthful assistance with the heavy lifting, so I jumped right in. I have learned much from them about the joy of aging! These are elderly men and women who love life, love helping others and enjoy being around others. Some of them have been volunteering there for years, which I think is great. They are happy because they are serving others. I hope to continue to serve in this capacity for a long time because it’s so rewarding. In fact, a much-needed project has come up and an elderly man has offered to be my partner to get it done.
Additionally, I have been helping an elderly woman in our neighborhood with various tasks: helping load and unload items from her car and into her house or onto shelves, move deck furniture, and other small tasks. It’s easy for me but means much to her; she is always so grateful. I often think of my grandma who lives alone in another state and hope that she has someone who can help her with similar tasks.
This winter I have also been helping a local elderly couple shovel their driveway and walkway whenever it snows (which it does quite often in Minnesota). They have offered to pay me but I have politely declined, letting them know service is the best gift.
Through all of these experiences I have observed an incredible work ethic of the aged, how their rich life experiences have molded them, and great generosity—all things from which I think many people, including me, can benefit. If everyone had the same amazing love for work and service that the elderly exhibit, we would have a very different and better world than ours today. Volunteering with them and beside them has made me want to work harder and give of myself even more. Someday I’m sure I will work for money, but I hope I never forget the “payment” I receive from service with the elderly, “the least of my brethren”, that which makes all involved happy, hopeful and helpful.