Community uses the outbreak as a call to action to help those most in need
By Chrissy Ramakrishnan, Goodman Community Center volunteer coordinator and Marshfield Clinic Health Systems AmeriCorps member
The Goodman Community Center has long provided essential services to the community in the form of food, educational enrichment, friendship and much more. While GCC has a very dedicated and experienced staff leading these community services, volunteers are essential. Programs and services depend on volunteers providing hard work to keep things running efficiently.
“(As a volunteer I’ve learned) how fabulous a resource the Center is and how much it gets done for the community,” one volunteer commented.
None of this would be possible without the dedication of Goodman’s volunteers.
Shopping rain or shine
The Fritz Food Pantry has historically relied on some of the highest number of volunteers of any program at Goodman, and the last 18 months have been no exception. The pantry has seen a few iterations of operation during COVID-19, and volunteers have been flexible with them all — helping with filling orders, stocking shelves, bagging diapers and everything in between. The food pantry continued its curbside model all throughout the Wisconsin winter, and volunteers worked through rain, sleet and snow.
“When I started in June 2020, I was blown away by how many people were willing to help volunteer in the middle of a pandemic,” said Francesca Frisque, Goodman’s food pantry manager. She had been a food pantry volunteer for many years before coming on as a staff member.
Many existing volunteers told her how hard it was for them to have to pause volunteering, but needed to do so for health reasons. Thankfully, new volunteers were able to step in when some volunteers needed to step out.
“(I) needed to add some structure to my weeks, and I just felt pulled to help out in the community,” said Jamie, a weekly Thursday volunteer who started volunteering at the end of 2020. “It felt so good to get out and do something meaningful in the community. It was great to work with other people who continued to serve the community in important ways despite the complications and frustrations of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Bobbie, a Goodman volunteer who helped out during the food pantry’s community meal, was motivated to get more involved at Goodman by former Executive Director Becky Steinhoff’s philosophy of being proactive in helping the community and rising to the challenges brought upon by COVID-19. She and her husband Bob became more involved during the pandemic as the stay-at-home order was hard for them to adjust to.
“People are in need, and I needed to help.”
Nine years ago, Debra Baker saw an ad in the newspaper that Goodman was looking for a volunteer to help with bingo games for older adults. She said, “I can do that.” Almost a decade later, she still is — with the help of her husband, Stuart, whom she recruited along the way. When the pandemic hit and in-person programs closed, it wasn’t long before Gayle Laszewski, GCC’s older adult program director, started setting up virtual programs for the seniors and asked Debra “what do you think about doing bingo online?”
The team worked together to send out bingo cards and instructions for how to play online. It was a bit of a challenge at first with everyone figuring out the technology, but bingo continued twice a week online. Debra keeps track of who comes to which games and who the winners are. At the end of the month, the top two winners get a $5 gift card. When Goodman brought back in-person bingo on Wednesdays, Debra and Stuart continued to host online bingo on Mondays in addition to the in-person games.
“We had fun. It was fun to see people, but we really love being back in-person to see people,” Debra said about the online games.
The food pantry community meal and senior meal programs have always been beloved programs at Goodman. When those programs stopped, GCC started a meal delivery program in the Brentwood and Darbo neighborhoods, which later extended to the seniors around the east side. When this opportunity arose, it was not hard to find delivery volunteers.
For many, delivering meals has been the sweet spot of staying safe and still interacting with the community.
“I am fortunate though to be a substitute delivery person for the senior meal program. Even though I am not cooking the meals, I can deliver them and keep myself safe,” said David, who volunteered with the community meal before COVID-19.
For many volunteers, helping with the meal delivery program is a family opportunity. Anne delivered meals with her son Noah.
“Over the years, Noah and I found a love of cooking and baking, and so volunteering for the food delivery program seemed like a natural fit for both of us,” Anne said. “I have been volunteering most of my adult life. When COVID-19 hit, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to help the community, and it turned out to help our relationship as well.”
Many GCC delivery volunteers have full-time jobs, but having a more flexible work-from-home schedule meant they could squeeze in the deliveries during their day. Some meals were delivered by bike instead of a car as well. Weekly delivery volunteer Hildy Feen takes her delivery route on her bike when she can. Before starting with the deliveries, Feen had volunteered on and off with events at Goodman.
“I saw this opportunity and thought I needed a purpose in my life at this point and got involved,” Feen said.
Since the start of the meal deliveries, volunteers have delivered over 47,000 meals to seniors and families in the surrounding area.
We all know that it can be difficult to navigate the complexities of the digital world. Goodman has been offering one-on-one tech assistance sessions with volunteers for the past eight months. The sessions with volunteers has helped seniors feel more comfortable with tasks on their phones, tablets and laptops — and has provided some socialization as well.
Volunteer tech trainer Deb said Goodman’s track record of impact in the community and her desire to help during the pandemic motivated her interest in volunteering with the program.
"In January, as we all started to understand the situation a little better, the one-on-one volunteer opportunity at Goodman in the seniors’ tech program seemed like a relatively safe way to do some small thing to help my community,” Deb said. “Working with the senior tech program has been the best kind of adventure. The questions have been challenging, and the people I have met have been fascinating and lovely. We are often learning together. I think the pandemic has forced many of us to change our relationship with the technology in our lives, and so answering questions about computer updates, new phone functionality, plant identification apps, Zoom etiquette, etc. has felt important in a way it might not have prior to 2020."
“Working with the senior tech program has been the best kind of adventure. The questions have been challenging, and the people I have met have been fascinating and lovely. We are often learning together.”
As a community center that has operated in-person programming and services throughout COVID-19, Goodman has not had many “from home” volunteer opportunities in the way other organizations have.
But Goodman was able to transition high school tutors entirely online. Badger Volunteers, a program of the University of Wisconsin’s Morgridge Center for Public Service, pairs teams of UW students with community organizations to volunteer 1-4 hours each week at the same organization. GCC’s Badger Volunteer team helped tutor East High School students during the 2020-2021 school year.
“The Badger Volunteers were an integral part of the program last fall, and did a wonderful job of showing up consistently and working with our students,” said Wilson Seely, tutoring coordinator at East.
Volunteering builds community
Volunteers add so much to the Goodman Community Center, from bringing new ideas to programs, to inviting their friends to get involved.
“You could see the love people had for their fellow neighbors and their willingness to support in ways they could — mask making, volunteering on site or volunteering to call seniors so they had someone to connect with while being isolated,” said former GCC volunteer manager Mai Lor Yang. “It truly is amazing because there was also so much divisiveness in the country at the same time (as the pandemic).”
Interested in volunteering?
If you had volunteered with Goodman before the pandemic and are interested in getting involved again or would like to become a new volunteer, please reach out. Click here to check out current opportunities, email email@example.com or call 608-204-8048.
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