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Staying young, making a difference — Mankato-area seniors serving as fine, community-minded examples to all

They’re everywhere within the nonprofit realm, yet you can bet there can never be enough of them.

To dispel any fears of an extended riddle, the above is referring to retired volunteers. You know, those indispensable contributors at organizations doing good work in communities across the region.

They sit on boards of directors, staff thrift stores, deliver meals, offer smiles when clients walk into food shelves and fill any number of other roles.


Kathy Hauser (right) talks with Joann Frank at the Neighborhood Thrift Store in North Mankato. Hoosier has been volunteering at the store for eight years. Photo by Jackson Forderer

Jackson Forderer

Seriously, go to a nonprofit, you’ll find one keeping busy. Harder to find is one who’ll take credit for their own hard work.

If they are willing to talk about what they do, it’s within the frame of encouraging others to get involved. Volunteering, it turns out, gives you an acute sense of an organization’s needs. So they know as much as anyone the need for more help.

Kathy Hauser, 74, retired from her bank job eight years ago. You can now find her volunteering at the Neighborhood Thrift Store run by PACT Ministries each week.

There, she’s come to know many of the customers by their faces if not their names.

“I wanted something to do besides being home,” she said of her decision to start volunteering. “I enjoy it; I like the people that come in.”

Like the older couple from Stewart who frequents the store every couple weeks.

“They’re the kind of people who you always get a hug from,” Hauser said. “You look forward to them coming.”

With Hauser, you get a clear sense of what motivates her to get involved. By helping at an organization like the thrift store, she sees firsthand how much people benefit from the affordable goods. She then got to know the customers personally, built friendships and wanted to keep coming back because of them.

Apart from the thrift store, she helps at the monthly Food for All distribution site with a team of fellow volunteers. Hauser also serves on the advisory board for Common Good RSVP, a Catholic Charities program connecting people age 55 or older to volunteer opportunities.

‘Give back, get involved’


Phil Slingsby is a volunteer for United Way as well as Kiwanis. “This is something that’s a lot of fun,” Slingsby said, “You get more out of it than you put in.” Photo by Jackson Forderer

Jackson Forderer

Phil Slingsby, 61, is another who sought out volunteering opportunities once he retired. Slingsby, who worked at Scheels until about six years ago, keeps just as busy at the Greater Mankato Area United Way. Volunteering was always something he wanted to do, he said, and retirement opened up more time for it.

“It was a goal of mine to give back to the community and just be more involved, because I do have the time,” he said.

He now sits on the nonprofit’s finance committee and volunteers at Kiwanis Holiday Lights — setting up and staffing the park at night.

“I benefit more than I give,” he insists. “And I think you’ll hear that over and over again.”

He’s right. Volunteers are quick to note the same when asked. They may be the ones helping, but they feel they’re receiving just as much or more in return.

As Richard Melarvie, a volunteer for VINE Faith in Action, puts it: “Being helpful to somebody, it takes you away from yourself.” At 80, Melarvie gives rides to VINE Adult Community Center members who’d have a heck of a time getting there themselves.

“The people you drive around are without vehicles, without other means,” he said. “It’s fun to get to know them.”

VINE’s transportation fleet includes hired drivers, but most of the 75 rides per day are given by volunteers like Melarvie. Another 10 or so volunteers deliver meals around the community.

Adam Massmann, VINE’s volunteer coordinator, and Mary O’Sullivan, education coordinator, said volunteers like Melarvie are critical components at the nonprofit.

“We couldn’t possibly do what we do without volunteers,” O’Sullivan said.

VINE, like other nonprofits, doesn’t have a hard time coming up with examples of dedicated volunteers like Melarvie. They also get an influx of interested helpers at trainings each month, although Massmann said more are always welcome.

“We always have a need,” he said. “ … But we are thankful for the volunteers we do have.”

It’s a common sentiment from the people who oversee volunteering in the nonprofit realm. The help they get is phenomenal, but more could make quite a big difference.

Let’s get down to how aspiring volunteers can get started.

Ready to give back?


Volunteer Phil Slingsby (right) talks with Rande Baker, the resource development director, at the United Way offices. Slingsby said he volunteers in the fall, winter and spring but has too many things going on in the summer, to which Baker replied, “We put it on the calendar the day he gets back.” Photo by Jackson Forderer

Jackson Forderer

Here you are, no longer working full time. Give yourself a pat on the back. You worked your tail off for decades to reach a hard-earned retirement. And you should enjoy it. Maybe at first you bask in the freedom, happily casting off the shackles of your longtime nine-to-five to travel or pick up a new hobby.

Then you realize you have a whole lot of time on your hands. The kind of time no hobby could ever hope to completely fill. Massmann hears about scenarios like this all the time at VINE.

“We have a lot of people just retire, and then retirement is fine for awhile but they get bored not having schedules,” he said.

How to fill that time? If you’ve read this far, you know where this is going. The next question becomes what you can volunteer for.

According to longtime volunteers, anything. Care about helping vulnerable youth? Call up The Reach Drop-in Center. Into bicycling? Key City Bike will find you most useful.

Slingsby wanted to give back to an organization helping children, so he connected with the United Way.

“Just go out there and give it a try,” he said. “Don’t just try it once — try it several times — and you’ll find something that’s so enjoyable.”

If not, switch it up, Hauser said. Volunteering works within your schedule, not the other way around, allowing you to choose when and how much you want to help.

It’s not like you’re locked into volunteering once you start. You spare whatever free time you can. And you can take a break at anytime, although Slingsby, Hauser and Melarvie all said they didn’t see themselves doing so anytime soon.

“It’s better to give than receive,” Melarvie said. “You get a satisfaction in helping someone.”

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