United Way of 1000 Lakes Celebrates Volunteers

Established in 1974, National Volunteer Week, April 19 – 25, celebrates the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges, to build stronger communities, and be a force that transforms the world.

“Volunteers are essential to the success of United Way of 1000 Lakes, and within each of the non-profit organizations we support,” said Kimberly Brink Smith, United Way of 1000 Lakes executive director. “They lend critical people-power, professional expertise, and community-based ideas to tackle tough social issues like mental illness and food equity.”

Volunteers support the community in numerous ways. Whether painting an older neighbor’s deck or cooking meals for the homeless, driving seniors to medical appointments or advocating for better housing laws, serving on an organization’s board or planning a fundraiser, the work that volunteers do is indispensable. Without the generosity of volunteers, the work of organizations like United Way would not be possible.

To honor individuals and their extraordinary dedication to giving back and improving lives, United Way presents Volunteer Awards to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to United Way’s partner agencies.


ElderCircle─ Sherry Burcar-Flint

Sherry Burcar-Flint received a United Way Volunteer of the Year Award for leadership in founding and growing ElderCircle’s Bone Builders fitness program.

ElderCircle offers a range of programs and services designed to empower older adults to remain active, healthy, and independent. ElderCircle’s Bone Builders program offers free fitness classes, led by volunteer trainers, to adults across the range with a focus on preventing osteoporosis and other ailments that can limit mobility.

In addition to her position as a Master Trainer, Burcar-Flint also shares her knowledge, having trained more than 150 volunteers since the Bone Builders program’s inception in 2009. She is dedicated to growing and developing her fitness knowledge, having recently completed extensive coursework to become certified as a “Stay Active & Independent for Life” Master Trainer.

Without Sherry, the Bone Builders program “would not be the success it is today,” said Lisa Randall, ElderCircle’s Volunteer Services Director. “Sherry’s commitment to fitness, constant learning, sharing her knowledge with others, and developing Bone Builders into what it is today has been a critical piece to touching the lives of hundreds of older adults and meeting ElderCircle’s mission.


Grace House – Nancy Baker

Since she started volunteering at Grace House in 2016, Nancy Baker has become a dependable fixture at the shelter, which provides a safe place to stay, meals, and other resources to people experiencing homelessness in the Itasca Area.

Lauren Larson and Nancy Baker

Baker drives over an hour to complete her duties at Grace House, which often include supervising the shelter overnight and making breakfast for guests. She logged over 400 volunteer hours in 2019 alone, stepping up to fill in on short notice when necessary.

Baker’s dedication to Grace House is highly valued. She is always willing to help in difficult situations, and approaches her work with “compassion, poise, and ease,” according to Grace House Program Director Jessyca Bardzel. “I know when Nancy is here, we are leaving our building in very capable hands. She is kind, reliable, down to earth, and truly an asset to our organization the people experiencing homelessness that we serve.”


Project Care – Dr. Phillip Imholte, MD and Karen Karls

Project Care provides healthcare, outreach, and education to uninsured families and individuals in the Itasca Area. Project Care Free Clinics are located in Hibbing, Virginia, and Grand Rapids.

Karen Karls practices her belief that citizens are better when they lend a hand by generously lending time, support, and expertise to local nonprofit organizations and community action efforts. Karls has volunteered as a receptionist at the Project Care Free Clinic in Grand Rapids since its doors opened in 2011. A retired social worker, she greets clients, helps out with intake forms and processing, and occasionally fills in as a clinic site coordinator. Pam Dowell, Project Care Site Coordinator, describes Karls as “a leader and a wonderful volunteer.” Karls’ professionalism, warmth, and willingness to help out create a friendly, welcoming environment for Project Care’s clients.

United Way Executive Director Kim Brink Smith with Dr. Imholte and Karen Karls

Dr. Phillip Imholte, MD has provided exceptional medical care to Project Care’s clients for seven years, where he brings a whole body approach to medical care that includes nutrition, diet, and exercise. Dowell describes Imholte’s techniques as “true home-town doctoring:” whether providing a listening ear or performing minor surgical procedures, Imholte always puts patients at ease.

Dr. Imholte works at Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital. He is an active member of the community, chairing the Grand Rapids & Itasca Mountain Bicycling Association (GRIMBA), hosting talks, and supporting the local arts scene. Dowell calls him “the kind of neighbor everyone would like – sensible, friendly, and willing to be an active participant in his community.”

This year’s Volunteer Award recipients are an inspiration, showing us how each of us can use our time, talent, and voice to play a role in supporting our community.

To learn more about volunteering, including COVID-19 volunteer opportunities, call 218-999-7570 or visit volunteer.uwlakes.org.