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Q and A: Rambling River Center depends on its volunteers

Volunteers, like the gals who organize the day-old bread distribution, play an important role in the daily operations of Rambling River Center. Coordinator Missie Kohlbeck says she couldn't run the senior center without the help of volunteers.

April is Volunteer Recognition Month, but Farmington's Rambling River Center coordinator Missie Kohlbeck is thankful for her many volunteers every day. In 2011, 108 people volunteered 4,601 hours to the community's senior center.

Rambling River Center will host a volunteer recognition celebration April 19 to say thank you to all of those who helped in the last year. This week, Kohlbeck talked about how much she appreciates the work they do.

Last year, you had 108 volunteers, the year before about the same. Two years ago, you had double that. Was that because the move?

It was. We had a whole crew from Happy Harry's that volunteered to move us. We had people who came in and painted, we had people who came in and hung cabinets. We had people who did demo. And they just kind of did their thing, helped us get in here, helped us move, or maybe they helped us clean right when we got in and they're members but they haven't volunteered with us since, but for that special time they did.

Still, with 108 for last year, that's pretty impressive.

Yes. Yes, it's a very nice group of people.

Where are your volunteers coming from?

The majority of them are Rambling River Center members. A few of them are students. We have students who have volunteered with us over the course of the year that we have a class that comes in right now with Heidi Revels. We've had National Honor Society students... We have students in the middle school age group who are required to do a certain amount of volunteer work for the middle schools. And we have a class from Independent School District 196 that comes down. They're a school-to-work group so they're learning job skills. They've been with us here for two years now, and they bring three to eight people every Wednesday.

What sort of things do you have your volunteers doing?

Everything. Consistently every day, our phone is manned in the afternoon by volunteer receptionists and those folks run a cash register, answer the phone, give tours of our building, give membership information. If I'm here and I'm not at a meeting or I'm not at a program, they'll do some of that orientation stuff. They're really a good group, a good group of qualified folks who help us with receptionist duties.

We have volunteer bus drivers. We have a volunteer fitness trainer, someone who is certified in fitness training who volunteers her time to do orientation with our folks in the fitness room. We have an advisory board that's all volunteer. We have people who do some cleaning tasks who volunteer. We have people who work special events....

You know, cleaning the vegetables before the steak fry, cleaning up after the steak fry. The Kiss the Pig contest is a volunteer option. Teaching or leading a class. The gentleman who leads our woodworking group does that. We have people who facilitate our Sit and Stitch, or who facilitate our recycled cardboard program. Or even, we have one person who is in charge of our leisure groups, too, so they set the tables up for bridge and get the right decks of cards out for bridge. There's a singled out person for each of those types of things. And you met the bread ladies....

It's a wide range.

Is it hard to find volunteers?

For very specialized jobs, it can be. Like the bus driving. Currently, we're at a spot where we have volunteers. One is a senior center member and two of our bus drivers are not. They're younger people out in the community and they just want to help. They do have to have a commercial driver's license with a passenger endorsement so it's a little more specialized....

Getting people to facilitate a group or be receptionists, they're okay if you give them some training. Let them know what's expected of them. I think most people are okay with that.

Am I correct in seeing that they're running about 42 1/2 hours, give or take, individually, as an average?

Yes. Like (the bread ladies). They come every week for an hour each week, for 52 weeks. So they're donating 52 hours a year to the senior center. On average, it's 42 hours. Almost 43 hours, per person.

So how does that come out dollar-wise, as far as running the Rambling River Center?

If you look at the amount of hours that were donated this year, a full time position is 2080 hours a year. We have more than that in volunteer hours. We have the equivalent of two full-time positions dedicated here in volunteer time.... To be honest, the place wouldn't function without all the volunteers.

Let's talk about your volunteer recognition event. It's coming up.

We switched the calendar date. It was on the community calendar for April 17, but we let all of our volunteers know by invitation and we put it up on Facebook, that we've moved it to the 19th. It's free for our members but we do ask for a donation of $3 for their guests. We provide hors d'oeuvres. We will have cheese and crackers, a chocolate fountain with fruit and cake pops. Punch and coffee.

We usually have some kind of entertainment. A few years ago, we had the kindergarten kids sing and we had so many comments that people really wanted to hear that again. We asked Mrs. Schultz, again, from Riverview Elementary School, and they're coming. So we'll have volunteer recognition by volunteers. People really enjoy seeing those little kids.

Do you think you could do what you do at Rambling River Center without volunteers?

No way. No way. For example, when I'm not here, someone has to unlock the building, someone has to close the building. Even sickness or vacation or funerals or out of the office for a meeting, even with all those things, the building has to remain open. That's just opening the building. That's not any of the jobs within the building. So there's no way it would happen without volunteers.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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