United Way Announces ‘Volunteer of the Year’ Nominees

As part of United Way of 1000 Lakes’ commitment to fostering the spirit of volunteerism, the Volunteer of the Year Award program recognizes the valuable contributions volunteers are making in our communities and encourages more people to serve.

Now more than ever, volunteers are needed to play a critical part in the success of local nonprofits and community-based programs – stocking food shelves, mentoring young people, caring for our natural resources, and more. As National Volunteer Week begins, United Way thanks the thousands of volunteers for their extraordinary dedication and congratulates this year’s Volunteer of the Year award nominees.

“Volunteers bring professional expertise, compassion, and selfless dedication to our community,” says United Way Executive Director Kim Brink Smith. “From giving their time to help keep nonprofits running to lending their unique talents to move our community forward, our region’s volunteer force is vital to keeping our region strong and vibrant.”

The nominees for the 2021 Volunteer of the Year award are:

Scott Berg: Itasca ReStore

For the past nine years, Scott Berg has been a friendly face at the Itasca ReStore, a resale store that supports Itasca County Habitat for Humanity. Serving about 189 hours each year, Scott dedicates a day each week to the ReStore, where he welcomes shoppers, answers questions about merchandise, and processes donations. Over the years, Scott’s dedication and consistent presence has led to him playing a vital role in the ReStore’s operations, helping ensure that the Restore is able to fully support Habitat’s work to build safe, affordable homes with Itasca County families.

“[Scott] is one of the key puzzle pieces in making Habitat a cohesive team,” says ReStore Manager Matt Selleck. “We have no way to truly express how much of an impact he has had on us and the community.”

Jan & Erle Erickson: ElderCircle Assisted Transportation

Jan and Erle Erickson work as a team when they’re volunteering with ElderCircle’s Assisted Transportation program, which provides rides to medical appointments throughout Minnesota to Itasca County residents age 60 and up. Jan responds to ride requests and takes care of documentation, while Erle drives clients and offers a steady arm as clients enter and exit his vehicle. In 2021 alone, the pair logged a combined 619 hours helping clients reach their medical appointments, driving 9,792 miles throughout the year. Many of the 27 clients they served may not have otherwise been able to access the medical care they needed, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and kidney dialysis.

“Jan and Erle have been dedicated to the Assisted Transportation program for years,” says Lisa Rosemore, ElderCircle’s Assisted Transportation program coordinator. “Since the start of the pandemic, they have not shied away from continuing to serve our clients, so they get the medical help they need. I can’t stress enough how grateful we are for their willingness to help and their genuine, caring nature towards those they assist.”

Linda Foss: ElderCircle Assisted Transportation

Linda Foss is another volunteer who provides a vital service in helping patients get to medical appointments. Since 2017, Linda has volunteered as a driver with the Assisted Transportation program. In 2021, Linda helped transport 52 clients, spending more than 650 hours on the road and traversing 18,080 miles, with many trips taking her as far as the Twin Cities and Rochester. Program Coordinator Lisa Rosemore praises Linda’s flexibility and willingness to travel long distances, saying,

“I can always depend on Linda to step up and make sure that client gets to and from the appointment safely. She truly cares about the people she helps, even rearranging her schedule if there is a need.”

In addition to the hours she dedicates to providing transportation, Linda also volunteers at Grace House, providing support and supervision to the shelter’s guests during the overnight shift.

Janis Johnson: Project Care

Janis Johnson has been volunteering as Project Care’s pharmacist since the clinic opened in Grand Rapids in 2011. Project Care is a free clinic that provides medical care and treatment to un- and under-insured patients in the Itasca area. Janis brings her 51 years of pharmacist experience to her role at Project Care, where, each Tuesday, she’s on-site to work with doctors and patients to determine the best, most cost-effective prescriptions for patients.

“Her knowledge of formularies and medication pricing is amazing,” says the Grand Rapids clinic’s Site Coordinator Pamela Dowell, who describes how Janis plays a vital role in treating patients. “If somebody’s coming in uninsured, it’s likely that the cost of prescription medication would place an additional burden on that patient’s family. Janis is the key to finding affordable medication for patients in a world where medication is not affordable.”

Janis’ commitment to Project Care makes it possible for the clinic to utilize its unique delivery model, wherein a patient can see both a doctor and pharmacist in one visit, allowing each client to receive individualized care. “We’re so lucky to have Janis,” says Dowell, who estimates that Janis gives about 150 hours of her time to Project Care each year, a number that will only increase as Janis begins her term on the organization’s Board of Directors.

Cheryl Shepherd: Grace House

Grace House, Itasca County’s shelter for people experiencing homelessness, depends on volunteers for its everyday operations. Three hundred sixty-five days a year, volunteers serve meals to guests, provide support and a listening ear, and monitor the shelter overnight. Cheryl Shepherd is one of Grace House’s most steadfast volunteers. Since 2013, Cheryl has logged more than 2,300 hours volunteering at Grace House, giving more than 250 hours each year to running overnight and breakfast shifts at the shelter, creating a warm and welcoming experience for guests, and even jumping in to cover shifts at the last minute.

“Cheryl is phenomenal,” says Grace House Executive Director Ron Oleheiser. “Our staff and guests highly appreciate her service.”

Jim Willford: Itasca County Habitat for Humanity

Jim Willford has worn many hats at Itasca Habitat since he first got involved 14 years ago, serving on the organization’s Board of Directors, as a construction site supervisor, and even as interim executive director. While his leadership terms have come to an end, Jim’s involvement with Habitat shows no sign of slowing down: he remains on the organization’s Construction Committee, helping plan the building of new homes, and continues to volunteer on housing projects, putting in more than 1,000 hours over the years helping construct new homes for low-income families. Jim has also taken the lead on Home Preservation projects, managing his fellow volunteers as they complete small renovations for older adults and other low-income homeowners. Jim’s genuine dedication and ongoing leadership are evident in how he mentors staff, helping to ensure the organization continues to grow its impact.

United Way’s Community Impact Committee will select the Volunteer of the Year Award recipient from nominations. All nominees will be honored at United Way’s upcoming Campaign Celebration & ‘Best of’ Awards ceremony on May 26th, 2022, from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. at the Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids. General admission is free and open to the public; however, reservations are required. To reserve seats, visit uwlakes.org/campaign-celebration or call 218-999-7570.