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Volunteers make valuable contribution in Hudson, area

This is National Volunteer Recognition Week but volunteers are recognized for their contributions every week at the Day Away program in Hudson. Pictured from left are clients Nancy, Ken, Bill, Day Away manager Tara Murdzek, volunteer Frank Johnson, caregiver and support Nancy Abrahamson Tom, a client.

Maybe the best way to understand the contribution of the more than 350 people who volunteer across St. Croix County is to take a look at what just a few of them do individually every week.

Frank Johnson has been a volunteer at the Day Away adult respite program for five years. It is just one of the volunteer activities he does on a regular basis. As a volunteer he has coffee and conversation with clients in the program and assists with activities like arts and crafts, games, cooking, exercise and occasional outings. On a recent day, Johnson visited with clients about music, movies, gardening and the weather before everyone decided it was just too nice to stay inside and it was time for a walk.

Johnson is matter of fact about his role at Day Away but those he works with say his contribution is invaluable. "We can always call on Frank and he's always there if he can be," said Tara Murdzek, Day Away manager. "He and the other volunteers we have make all the difference. We couldn't do this without them."

Carol McConaughey is another Day Away volunteer. Until she was sidelined for several months by an injury, she had been volunteering at least once a month for six years. She heard about the program while on the board of directors at the Hudson Senior Center.

"I was pleased to find out about it and I've enjoyed it very much. I like meeting new people and enjoy talking with them. It is fun to find a new audience. We have shared some great tales over the years. I try to bring an item from home with me that will trigger conversation. It is always interesting and fun," said McConaughey.

McConaughey loves to sing and has found others who do in the program. "At times we've almost had a choir." She is also famous for her shoulder and neck rubs which she offers to everybody before she leaves. She recalled one client, Joe, who didn't speak except to say "yes, please" when she asked if he wanted a massage. "When he couldn't speak anymore all it took was a look and a grin and I knew what he wanted," said McConaughey.

McConaughey said people might get the wrong impression of Day Away, that it is just sort of babysitting for the clients. "But it is anything but. We have so much fun and we laugh. When we play games it can get pretty competitive. They like to keep score and like to win even more."

McConaughey, 75, who has volunteered throughout the community over the years, said she likes the feeling of helping, not just the clients at Day Away but also their caregivers. "And it provides me with another way to see and be with older people. I'm one of them and it is rewarding to help each other."

In addition to working at Day Away, McConaughey is a Bethel Lutheran quilter and regularly knits baby sweaters that are donated to Lutheran World Relief, Grace Place and Hudson Hospital.

Kris Knott wanted to find some way her family could volunteer last summer. She ran across an ad in the newspaper asking for a volunteer to mow lawn for someone who couldn't handle it. Ultimately the family ended up donating a mower to the woman. Her son, Briggam, mowed the lawn throughout the summer while she trimmed and swept, "and did whatever was needed."

Knott said the experience was an important one for the family and they intend to help the woman out again this summer. "I think it made an impression on Briggam. He saw what it is like for someone who lives alone and has some physical limitations. I think it is something we all will remember. We got so much out of the experience. If you think of time as money, we got quite a return on our investment. I'd recommend it to others. It's a good thing," said Knott.

Information about the Day Away Program and other volunteer opportunities through the Aging and Disability Resource Center call (715)381-4360. A list of other volunteer opportunities throughout the area appears with this story.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604