Volunteers are the heart and hands of Interfaith Outreach. Their generous donation of time, energy and savvy makes our programs possible. From individuals to civic groups and corporations, volunteers are the service multipliers who grow our capacity to serve struggling families on daily basis. Each month we highlight one volunteer from one of our many program areas.
Ben Johnson was curious. He’d driven past the Interfaith Outreach building on many occasions and one day decided to simply walk in and find out what it was all about. The enthusiasm of the staff was contagious! After learning about the breadth and depth of the organization’s work and history in the community, it was an easy decision for him to volunteer at Interfaith Outreach whenever possible.
Ben’s commitment to Interfaith Outreach is amazing. He has volunteered in the food shelf, Resale Select, Homework Club and even with the annual furniture sale. His favorite memory was getting a big unexpected hug from a young Homework Club student. Ben had underestimated the impact he was making just by being there.
Ben now serves on the Development Committee and invests his time organizing community events on behalf of Interfaith Outreach. He actively promotes The Sleep Out campaign to increase awareness and funding, and he also recruits business participants for the Shop with a Purpose event in December. During the spring Prevent Hunger campaign, he helps organize a fun, interactive food drive and networking event. Ben also partners with the Greater Wayzata Area Chamber of Commerce to provide backpacks and school supplies during Back to School.
Ben believes the collaboration of great people in the community and at Interfaith Outreach is the key to our success. By working together we can accomplish amazing things. Thank you, Ben, for your wisdom, energy and commitment!
Katherine Magy grew up going to Wayzata schools and discovering Interfaith Outreach early in life. She remembers a food drive in middle school that was also a friendly competition. Pulling her red wagon, Katherine spent a day walking through her grandmother’s neighborhood, requesting donations and raising awareness of our food shelf. Shopping with her parents and selecting gifts for our Holiday Gift Program is another wonderful memory. One year, Katherine and her friend Claire actually appeared in marketing materials for the Sleep Out. Smiling photographs show them joining others at St. Phillip the Deacon Lutheran Church.
When Katherine moved back to Plymouth after college with her now-husband of six years, she wanted to get involved with Interfaith Outreach again. Drawing on her professional work experience, Katherine supports Interfaith Outreach Human Resources by consulting on organizational development projects, providing information on employment law and best practices, and serving as a resource and support for our staff. In this role, much of the work Katherine does for Interfaith Outreach is remote, which is a blessing for a part-time working/part-time stay-at-home mother of a toddler with a little one on the way. She also enjoys meeting families and registering them for the Holiday Gift Program or getting them set up with their back-to-school supplies.
Thank you, Katherine. We know your love of Interfaith Outreach will continue on in your children.
Laurie Schulzetenberg is proud to call Interfaith Outreach her “happy place.” She enjoys giving back to her community and has met some wonderful people in the process. In 2016, Laurie found herself with some extra time and decided to search out opportunities at Interfaith Outreach. Her positive attitude and past retail experience made her a perfect fit for Resale Select. Now you can find her working behind the scenes – accepting and sorting donations, organizing, straightening and sometimes supervising volunteer groups.
Laurie has experienced many rewarding moments. One day a Somali woman explained that her young daughter had developed a huge interest in reading after receiving some children’s books from Resale Select. Prior to that, the girl didn’t like reading at all. Now both were beaming from ear to ear with thankfulness! The mother was proud of her daughter’s eagerness to learn and the daughter was excited her mother was so happy.
Another tender moment occurred after a woman, who had just had a great shopping experience at Resale Select, confided she had terminal cancer. Laurie knew they had all helped to make her day brighter.
Laurie’s advice is to check out the volunteer opportunities at Interfaith Outreach, pick your passion, support our community and have fun. Thanks, Laurie!
Gary Charles likes the notion of reaching out to neighbors who may be going through a rough spot in their lives. He knows the services provided by Interfaith Outreach make a big difference for these families and our community is strengthened when neighbors help neighbors.
Gary started his journey with Interfaith Outreach working through his church to provide occasional meals for an area housing unit. It was heartening for him to see how grateful folks were that their neighbors cared about them and their families. Gary was inspired by these encounters and by meeting other Interfaith Outreach volunteers committed to strengthening our community!
Gary knows another way to build a strong community is to work with our youth. For several years he was a tutor with Homework Club in Shenandoah Woods, meeting with many bright kids of a variety of ages. Gary was constantly surprised and amused by their refreshing comments and unique perspectives.
This year, Gary is working with the Great Expectations Initiative, exploring how to bring community resources to address the educational achievement and opportunity gap among students in the Wayzata and Orono school districts. He is part of an Action Team looking at students in the 6 to 8-year-old range.
Thank you, Gary. Your ongoing commitment is an inspiration to all of us!
Over 17 years ago, Shirl Melton came up with a creative idea for a fundraiser that has since evolved into Interfaith Outreach’s premier fundraising gala. Her friend Belle Davenport suggested she present the idea to LaDonna Hoy and the rest is history.
Shirl was selling real estate at the time and worked with many local builders, architects and community clients who were intrigued with the idea of designing and building custom birdhouses that could be sold at an auction. LaDonna named the event “Spread Your Wings.” The first silent auction and dinner took place at Cargill and showcased the power of our volunteers and our community members working together to make the event a grand success. In addition, Shirl was also instrumental in the early days of the Earl Cup golf tournament — wow!
Shirl also became an on-site volunteer at Interfaith Outreach 17 years ago. As an intake specialist, she meets with community members who are coming in for food assistance. Shirl always takes time to listen to their stories, like Ana, whose grandmother passed away just before she left Russia. Shirl reminds her so much of her grandmother that every time Ana is here for classes she runs into Shirl’s office to give her a big hug and always leaves with a tear in her eye. Another woman insists on giving Shirl handfuls of Russian candies every two weeks, laughs and tells Shirl that she’s too thin and then leaves happy.
Thank you, Shirl, for your past contributions and for making every person you meet feel valued!
Abby reminds us of the importance of having positive mentors in our life. A year and a half ago, Abby was volunteering at an elementary school and a mentor suggested she consider volunteering at a Homework Club as part of the Interfaith Outreach’s Neighborhood Program. It has been a perfect fit.
Abby loves coming on Tuesdays, connecting with the children, learning with them and then enjoying free time together.
The first thing Abby realized was that the success of Homework Club is based on building strong relationships. This unique challenge brings Abby personal fulfillment as she interacts with the children and earns their trust, respect and friendship. Abby knew she was in her element in Homework Club when, only a few short weeks after starting, she was happily welcomed by the children.
The homework help is made even more meaningful by the smiles and laughs Abby shares with the students and fellow volunteers every Tuesday. The kids have had an enormous impact in Abby’s life and now, as their mentor, she hopes to make even a small impact in theirs.
Abby, thank you for making a difference in the lives of our children!
Deb Ottman’s passion for supporting the education and development of young children extends to her career, her volunteerism and personal life.
Interfaith Outreach benefits from Deb’s knowledge and experience working for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Early Education & Development. In fact, Deb volunteers in three separate Interfaith Outreach initiatives. She’s on the advisory board for Caring for Kids, participates in a work group for Great Expectations and reads to preschoolers in Storytime Matters.
By far her favorite part of volunteering is the time spent reading to 4-year-olds in Storytime Matters. She enjoys interacting with these little people while helping them develop social, emotional and literary skills.
Deb was searching for a way to give back to her community and was drawn to Interfaith Outreach because it serves the area where she and her husband John raised their sons and still live. Additionally, Interfaith Outreach embraces intentional, mindful leadership, which is framed by understanding that we all do better when given the opportunity to build our own capacity for learning and understanding, regardless of the roles we play.
Deb appreciates working with the incredible staff, volunteers and program participants at Interfaith Outreach and is also impressed with the professional development the organization offers.
Thank you, Deb!
Kay Ness is touched by the sincerity of clients who comment on the personal attention, politeness and respect they feel when greeted at the front desk at Interfaith Outreach. Kay’s goal is to make sure every client feels welcome and special as she assesses their immediate needs and directs them to the appropriate personnel. Her favorite part of volunteering is knowing she can make a difference in someone’s life with compassion and kindness. Clients have made a difference in her life, too. She witnesses bravery, humility and strength in the human spirit when a client steps forward to describe their situation.
Kay became involved with Interfaith Outreach as a way to give back to the community. She has always been motivated to help those in need and appreciates how the staff and volunteers at Interfaith Outreach work together as a team to solve problems and get things done.
In spite of the fact that life can be complicated, messy and confusing, Kay believes that we are on this earth to help each other. She strives to establish a positive connection with each person she welcomes, knowing there can be mixed emotions when a client enters the Interfaith Outreach offices for the first time. Thank you, Kay, for making our clients feel valued and respected.
Committed. Focused. Dependable. These words describe volunteer Melanie Awcock, who works quietly behind-the-scenes with the Interfaith Outreach “Food to You” service, which selects and delivers food items from the food shelf to seniors and adults with disabilities. Melanie first learned about the Interfaith Outreach Food Shelf at her church, Vision of Glory Lutheran Church in Plymouth. She wanted to give back and be part of something that addresses a real need in our community. Melanie discovered her interests and computer skills were a perfect fit for coordinating information used by “Food to You.”
Being a task-oriented person, Melanie enjoys arriving at Interfaith Outreach, sitting in front of her computer and knowing she is helping our community. Liz Erstad-Hicks calls Melanie her “fairy” because she flits in and out and always gets the job done. After volunteers call program participants and fill out their requests for food, Melanie opens each request list and completes a final delivery list. These user-friendly delivery lists are collated with other information to make them ready for action. Melanie’s organizational talents and computer skills make the process go smoothly and contribute to the success of the “Food to You” program.
Melanie says her commitment to Interfaith Outreach is sustained by picturing our beautiful seniors receiving their food and eating something delicious. She appreciates that both volunteers and clients are empowered to grow at Interfaith Outreach, and she encourages others to step up and find out how they can help. Thank you, Melanie.
Melanie is pictured with her daughter Zoe.
Dee Spalla’s goal of living an intentionally purposeful life is apparent in her deep commitment to our clients and the compassionate staff of the Interfaith Outreach Employment Services team. Dee leverages her 25 years of professional human resources experience to provide insight, expertise and encouragement to our clients as they research and seek employment. Her holistic approach includes conducting personal interviews and exploring professional goals, strengths and life challenges. She assists clients in researching employment opportunities, as well as writing their resumes and appropriate cover letters. She also conducts “mock interviews” to prepare clients for phone and in-person job interviews. Dee loves the privilege of working with and on behalf of our wonderfully diverse community of clients. She feels joy and a sense of purpose upon learning a client she has assisted has gotten a job.
Dee and her husband Denny have lived and raised their family in the Plymouth/Wayzata community for over 45 years, so they are very familiar with Interfaith Outreach and the wonderful work our staff and volunteers do for the community. Dee is honored to be involved with Interfaith Outreach and admires how hard and patiently clients work to improve their lives, overcoming incredibly difficult life challenges. She feels very fortunate that the Employment Services team accepted her request to volunteer. We are honored that Dee is part of our 2,000+ strong volunteer community. Thank you, Dee!
Miriam Goldfein started volunteering with Interfaith Outreach in early 2015. She has a background in market research so she understands how to dig into census data, household income and other stuff that some people might find, well, a little boring. But Miriam is amazing at crunching numbers and data. She helps Interfaith Outreach staff research trends related to the barriers people face in our community and often helps pull data that allow staff to educate the community about the root causes of poverty.
Because of her research background, Miriam helps Interfaith Outreach staff gather and analyze data. And, as the organization continues to develop its Diversity & Inclusion Group (DIG), Miriam helps generate demographic surveys to better understand our staff, board and volunteers. Her incredible kindness and generosity also shines through when she volunteers 3-4 times a month at food shelf intake meetings to help us learn more about clients before they visit the food shelf.
Miriam tells us, “I had known about Interfaith Outreach for a long time. Through some networking, a colleague suggested I look at volunteer opportunities at the organization. What got me hooked was not only the professionalism I experienced, but also the willingness of the volunteer coordinators to ask me about my skills and suggest ideas of projects where I could use those skills. It was a perfect match. I am always so amazed at how great the clients are, as well as the staff. Everyone is so appreciative and grateful. I have volunteered at many different organizations and Interfaith Outreach does the best job making volunteers feel like they are adding value.”
Thank you, Miriam! You are part of a powerful group of volunteers that make the behind-the-scenes work….WORK at Interfaith Outreach!
Wayzata High School sophomore Aly Rahmatullah is known for being a strong student, but he has also gained a reputation for his generosity in the community. When Aly is not in class or studying to maintain his A-student status, you can find him volunteering at Interfaith Outreach doing what he can to help others. He’s a regular volunteer in the Food Shelf and a big help with our day-to-day operations.
“It just gives me some happiness to see clients walk out with some groceries, to know they’re good for the next week or so… making them happy and making sure they have what they need.”
“It’s not just helping out in the community. It’s really fun volunteering with friends, too.” Aly has set a great example for those around him. He even inspired his mother to begin volunteering in the Food Shelf this fall!
Thank you, Aly! We couldn’t be more proud of the amazing youth in our community who share their time, talents and boundless energy to keep our organization up and running!
In 2011 Gary was looking for an opportunity to give back to his community. In his words, “I wanted to contribute my time and efforts to help people in my own back yard.” He found that opportunity when he began serving on the Finance Committee of Interfaith Outreach in 2011. In 2013 he was invited to join the Board. Today Gary is the Board Treasurer, working with the Finance Committee and the finance staff on accounting, reporting, budgeting and planning.
Gary describes his role. “I, along with many other capable people, serve as the financial stewards of the organization. Over the past few years we have enhanced the financial infrastructure, built up the funding reserves, added internal financial controls and improved long range planning. I am proud of the fact that there were no internal control deficiencies discovered in last year’s financial audit. Mary Larson and Dinh Nguyen (Interfaith Outreach staff) were a huge help in achieving the zero deficiency audit.”
What benefits does Gary realize personally from volunteering? “I enjoy knowing that the efforts of my volunteer work are helping advance the mission of Interfaith Outreach in serving my neighbors in the local community. I also enjoyed working with the staff on the Diversity and Inclusion Group (DIG). DIG got me out of my element when I represented the Board and worked directly with the staff on that initiative.”
Gary also volunteers monthly at Sharing and Caring Hands through a group from St. Philip the Deacon Church. In addition to volunteering in his spare time, Gary enjoys exercising and riding his bike on the local bike trails and playing with his 3-year old grandson.
Susan Dankle is (finally) putting her college degree in retail merchandising to good use! Susan volunteers in Resale Select to help create displays, design the overall look of the store and manage women’s accessories.
“Volunteering in the store is heartwarming!” says Susan. “It’s so rewarding to see people’s excitement as they pick out coats, hats and gloves before winter hits. Our customers are so appreciative of what they receive, and I love the level of respect families feel from shopping in a real store – just like they would at Target.”
Big thanks to Susan and her fellow Resale Select volunteers!
Matt Mwangi is a 9th grader, but his confidence and maturity far exceed his age. Having been a camper at Camp CONECT as a kid, Matt decided to volunteer as a camp leader this summer. The 2nd and 3rd grade campers keep him busy, but his positive attitude helped him persevere.
“Volunteering as a leader in the program has been so rewarding,” says Matt. “I get to give back and get to know the campers from a new perspective – as a leader rather than as their peer.”
Thanks to Matt and the many other hardworking Camp CONECT volunteers!
A $27,500 grant from Wells Fargo for a new van removes transportation barriers to safely bring children to enriching activities, draws seniors into social gatherings and connects community members together to build stronger neighborhoods.
In addition to the grant, Wells Fargo team members from the Wayzata branch regularly volunteer to support Interfaith Outreach’s mission, including participating in the Bankers Souper Cook-off fundraiser.
Thank you, Wells Fargo, for being a great community partner!
Mistiha Jayaraj is a whiz with the 4th-6th graders at the Lakeview Commons Homework Club. Mistiha provides homework assistance and her natural positive attitude so kids can achieve academic and social success.
“I enjoy volunteering because it’s a way to expand my perspective. I meet new people and do new things,” shares Mistiha. A funny highlight is when the ice cream truck comes around to Lakeview Commons. “Everyone miraculously learns how to speed read and no longer has any homework!”
Special thanks to Mistiha and the rest of our amazing Homework Club volunteers!
When families visit Interfaith Outreach case managers, the Food Shelf or other programs, they can drop their kids off in the Children’s Play Area. Here the kiddos play with caring volunteers like Mary Burton and are kept safe and busy while mom and/or dad receives support.
Mary joined Interfaith Outreach in 2011 as a weekly volunteer and now manages volunteer schedules, trains new volunteers and still makes time to play!
Mary says, “If you ever hear a child crying in the Children’s Play Area, nine times out of 10 it’s because they don’t want to leave. They love it!”
Ron Olson, a committed data entry volunteer, started with Interfaith Outreach in 2011 after retirement. A quick typist and a pro at database searches, Ron ensures volunteer hours are tracked accurately so we know the shared impact volunteers make!
Ron has a heart for helping others. He’s volunteered 200+ times at Interfaith Outreach, totaling over 1,025 hours of service! “I continue to volunteer with Interfaith Outreach because I enjoy the atmosphere and getting to share the skills I acquired during my career in a rewarding and meaningful way.”
Big thanks to Ron and all our wonderful data entry volunteers!