Getting Out, Giving Back & Gaining Skills

In Kansas and Oregon, people Bethesda supports have become part of their communities through a staff focus on volunteer opportunities.

They make a difference where they live and spend time with their fellow residents, and, equally important, gain valuable job skills and make strides toward greater independence.

An ever-growing group of organizations in the Shawnee Mission, Kansas, area benefit from the efforts of participants in our Community Life program there.

Program manager Patty Powers and her staff have led attempts in Shawnee Mission to expand volunteer opportunities over the last decade through feedback from people we support and their preferences along with input and requests from other community organizations.

A rotating group of 35 people in the Community Life program serve as volunteers. They range in age from their early 30s to their 70s. They tag and hang clothing and other items, sort books, load towels in washers at an animal shelter and even help pick food at a farm in Weston, Missouri.

Meals on Wheels is especially popular with the program’s participants, and it offers great connections with the people who receive meals daily in Olathe and Lenexa.

“They get almost a friendship started and look forward to see that person,” Patty says. “They feel like they contribute and are part of a community. It helps them feel better about themselves. They feel like they have really helped another person.”

At St. Peter’s Catholic Church, volunteers bag groceries weekly for the church’s food pantry for families in need. The church holds luncheons and cookouts by a lake to thank volunteers.

“They include the staff and individuals we support into pretty much everything they do,” Patty says.

Volunteers were excited to learn recently they had obtained a community garden plot in Olathe, which will require them to not only manage the garden but to attend monthly city meetings to report on their activities.

“This is something they’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Patty says.

In addition to community inclusion, the program’s efforts also help inform people about Bethesda and our mission, says Lynne Ammon, lead direct support professional with the program.

“We are out in the community all the time,” she says, “and I think some people, when they first hear Bethesda, they think we’re a church.”

People we support in Portland, Oregon, also are very active in their community. Participants in the Community Life program there volunteer at a food bank, Store to Door grocery shopping, Scrap PDX, The ReBuilding Center as well as senior centers and horse farms.

The volunteer activities they engage in help people in the program learn employment and social skills and give them a sense of structure and responsibility, says Linda Peck Athens, program manager.

“A lot of volunteer places aren’t going to let you just come when you want,” she says. “You have to commit.”

Linda also sees volunteering as a way to encourage interaction between the people we support and people who are not their paid caregivers.

“Eventually the hope is we can drop them off and have them volunteer without us being there – to build independence, which is always a goal,” she says.

Linda says she encourages her staff to give the people we support a chance to find their volunteering niche.

“We need to help everyone understand they deserve the chance just to try it,” she says. “If it’s not the perfect environment for them, it doesn’t mean we never try it again. It just means we look for something that does work for them.”

By donating to Bethesda, you make a huge difference by helping to fund essential resources that give people with disabilities more opportunities to succeed on their terms.

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