Check out what some of our volunteers are experiencing:
Working with youth and families
Interning with people with disabilities
Twenty years ago, Nels Lersten was finishing his tenure as an esteemed botanist at Iowa State University. For years, the Ames resident had been cutting across LSI’s Beloit campus on his daily walk from home to the university and back.As he entered phased retirement, he found a way to give back to LSI, which had provided a short cut on those walks.
“I started looking around for something to do and I happened to see in the Ames Tribune that volunteers were needed at Beloit. I thought, ‘Well, I won’t have to feel guilty about walking across their property and I can do them some good,’ so I stopped in,” Nels said.
Nels didn’t know what services LSI provided, and he didn’t know if he would be asked to work directly with the children on campus.
“When I first came, the people I talked to said, ‘You’re not going to be working with the kids,’ and I said, ‘Thank God.’ I would’ve said no thanks,” Nels laughed.
To his delight, Nels found there was a need for someone to file paperwork, which he says he liked.
“Behind the scenes, there is an enormous amount of tracking and having an eye on virtually everything that kids do. The files contain detailed information on any problems they’re getting into, how their progress is going, how they’re doing. When you’re running a sensitive operation, especially dealing with kids, you need to know about all aspects of their stay here,” Nels said.
For two decades, the professor emeritus has continued coming to campus weekly to assist Beloit staff with important administrative support, filing everything from school reports to parent contact sheets to medical records and progress notes.
“I look at the name of the kid and decide where it goes. I make sure that it’s the stuff that’s intended to go in their notebooks, then look at the name and decide where it goes. Since it’s going into 3-hole notebooks, I punch it, alphabetize it and put it in the files. Pretty low level stuff, but somebody has to do it,” Nels said.
If Nels ever owed anything at all for cutting across the Beloit lawn all those years ago, he’s more than given back with his countless hours of dedicated service.
“This is what I’ve been doing, what I like doing, and everybody around here says, ‘We need somebody like that’ and ‘You do a great job.’ I’m going to be 82 next month, but I’m in pretty good shape, so as long as I can continue, I’ll be happy to help.
LSI’s story began when one congregation opened their hearts to a child in need. 150 years later, churches remain an important part of our shared ministry.
Volunteer church ambassadors take action through love and service by connecting their congregations to LSI’s work.
“My love for LSI really grows out of scriptural law – a command from Christ himself: ‘What you do to others, you do it unto me.’ If you look at the Gospel, he is healing the sick and feeding the hungry, and that really extends to worship,” says Gerry Kuhl, ambassador for Christ the King in Iowa City.
For Betty Heginger, ambassador for Zion St. John in Sheffield, the call to volunteer was more personal.
“I became interested because my husband was a resident at Bremwood back in the mid-1940s,” Betty says. “He always says it was a good time when he was there.”
Being a church ambassador may sound intimidating, but the work itself consists of simple tasks that greatly advance LSI’s mission.
“It’s not a hard commitment, very easy to do. You have to have a passion for LSI and the clients LSI serves. Basically you are the link between LSI and the congregation,” Gerry explains.
“We have a newsletter that goes out monthly, and I put a little article in. I get information from Joyce at LSI, so that’s what I base my article on,” says Betty.
Ambassadors also engage in raising support for LSI.
“During Lent seasons, we have an offering designated for LSI. I’m proud to say we collected over $700 a week ago for LSI, so it’s been a worthwhile effort,” Betty says.
“At Christmastime, I had some LSI envelopes and gave a temple talk so people could complete their charitable giving,” Gerry says.
Another way ambassadors engage their congregation is through a temple talk about upcoming events, LSI programs and success stories.
“I talked about LSI’s 150th anniversary and about the new programs helping children that have psychiatric needs,” says Betty. “One time I shared a story about a couple who adopted a child with special needs.”
“I gave a short temple talk the day before Lutheran Day on the Hill, explaining the three issues that we were going to advocate for. In the next couple weeks, I’ll give another temple talk explaining how that went,” says Gerry.
LSI could not advance its mission without the support of dedicated volunteers responding to the love of Jesus Christ love through compassionate service.
“I view it as service to the church and to the larger body of Christ,” says Gerry. “If we can help one individual through my being aware of LSI, I think the church has done part of its mission.”
“It’s just such a worthwhile organization that does so much to help people,” says Betty. “It makes me feel good.
Retirement. Golden years. What better time in life to learn something new, make a new friend and give back to the community
That is exactly what retired couple Doug and Mary Hedberg are doing as tutors for an elder couple in LSI’s Refugee Community Services.
“About a year ago, we saw an ad in the paper for tutoring English for 60 and older—that was the magic word,” says Mary.
“Our initial standpoint is to stay active. We have more time than we had before, so we want to do something to help somebody else. And it’s mentally challenging for us,” says Doug.
The Hedbergs are paired with a fellow elder married couple, Lela and Hem Bahttarai, who are originally from Bhutan.
“We’re getting along so well with them. You can’t actually converse because the language just isn’t there, so there’s a certain amount of hand gesturing, but I feel we are getting it,” Doug says.
“Lela will laugh or smile, so I feel that we’re friends. She teaches me a few Nepali words, and I’ll write them down and try to say them. Then she’ll laugh because that’s not how it sounds,” Mary laughs.
The Hedbergs volunteered as English tutors with a teenage group a few years ago, but have found a better bond working with Lela and Hem.
“There was a huge generation gap, and it didn’t fit quite right,” Doug explains. “In this group, their reasons are entirely different than high school. They want citizenship, they want to learn, and that makes a huge difference.”
Volunteers help set their own schedules and meet regularly for 1-2 hours at a time.
“We started out just one day a week on Monday, but then went home and said that’s not enough. One time a week isn’t enough,” say Mary and Doug, who now volunteer three days a week.
Lessons include one-on-one instruction and other activities that teach the alphabet, sight words, money and vocabulary
“We do whatever Molly finds for us,” Doug laughs. “We depend on her guidance, but there’s no defined lesson plan. We didn’t have any formal training on how to do this, but we have other teachers to learn from.”
“One-on-one instruction is hard for them, but they’ll indicate with gestures if they’re tired.”
“This is their program, and we will do what we can to make it comfortable,” Mary says. “You go with the flow and do what they want to do, so to speak. You never interrupt a card game to go to class. They’re glad we’re there.”
“Frankly every day is positive and you just grind away. It takes a lot of patience because learning a language in your 60s and 70s is really hard, but you take a break and then come back. It’s intense. You try to put yourself in their shoes, but that’s impossible,” says Doug.
Together, the Hedbergs and Bahttarai families are making progress through hard work and friendship.
“One time, I said ‘I think we have a breakthrough.’ All of a sudden, what we were doing clicked and I felt so good because it was there!” says Mary. “ It’s wonderful and it does more for us than we could ever do for them.”
“We think the world of them, we really do,” says Doug. “It’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”
“It’s work that is directly affecting someone’s life for the better. I’ve always wanted a job helping others and the internship definitely gave me that.”
Megan needed an internship to complete her degree in human services. She found a good fit in LSI’s Supported Community Living (SCL) program, which offers hourly and daily supports for children and adults with disabilities.
SCL direct care staff work with individuals to teach independent living skills, such as cooking, personal care habits, social skills and community safety. Interns help with the workload by keeping documentation up to date.
“I updated client files and their goals and helped with other jobs that my supervisors needed, such as copying papers and putting binders together for new employees. This benefited everyone because if new caseworkers got the file and it wasn’t correct, they wouldn’t be able to do their job,” said Megan.
Though interns cannot work with clients independently, Megan was able to shadow several sessions to get a sense of the work.
“I also got to shadow direct support professionals and caseworkers when they were interacting with clients. In addition, I got to interact with the clients, and I absolutely loved that part,” she said. “When I was meeting my first client, I wasn’t sure what to expect and of course I was a little nervous. I met them and it went great. It felt like I was doing something good for this little girl.”
Over the course of her internship, Megan says she had the opportunity to learn about more of LSI’s services and the statewide agency as a whole.
“I attended LSI’s 150th anniversary celebration in Des Moines. That experience really stood out because it was a lot of fun, and I met many people who worked for LSI in the different locations,” she said.
In the end, Megan decided that LSI was a great fit.
“When I finished my 150 hours, Danielle [program supervisor] asked me about applying with LSI and I really didn’t have to give it another thought because I knew I would,” she said. “I am an hourly direct support professional, and I really enjoyed being an intern at LSI so I knew having a job here would be even more enjoyable.”
Jake Turner knew firsthand what it was like to be a young child in need of a caring adult. So when he learned from his church that there were kids in his own community in need of mentors, he saw his opportunity to step up.
“I was adopted at the age of three, so I had some idea about kids in foster situations or kids without folks around. That’s always something that’s been in my heart to do,” Jake says.
Jake volunteers at LSI’s Beloit Residential Treatment Center, a 24/7 mental health facility for children who have severe emotional or behavioral disorders, many as a result of trauma or neglect. Since last summer, he has been mentoring a resident there, a young boy who needed an extra smiling face and a supportive adult to turn to for guidance.
Mentors and mentees are matched based upon interest and meet for a one-hour session each week to do activities and talk.
“Typically the first ten minutes of each session is just him being really excited that I’m there,” Jake says. “We try to figure out what to do, then go play games or put together art projects. We also play basketball and do activities like that.”
For many kids at Beloit, having a supportive adult to model good decision-making, help build communication skills and develop self-confidence is critical to later success.
“He seems to be afraid of trying things, and failing. I try to explain that just because you can’t do something the first time doesn’t mean you can’t work towards it,” says Jake. “I’m also trying to help him understand not to ‘make a mountain out of a molehill.’ He doesn’t always understand that his reactions to things can make problems a whole lot worse.”
Taking time to build trust with a mentor is also important for kids in treatment, and developing this relationship is highly rewarding.
“He’s a pretty standoffish kid. Then about a month in, one day he ran up and gave me a really big hug. That’s when I knew he actually liked me,” Jake laughs. “That was one of the most exciting parts. Now I would say we have a good relationship.”
Of course, everyone has a rough day from time to time, but Jake says the most important part of mentoring is to keep coming back.
“At the end of the day, if the session hasn’t been productive or enjoyable, he’s aware I’m still going to show up the next week. I don’t have to, I’m not paid, but I want to. I’ve seen a lot of kids that haven’t had people around to invest in them, so I don’t want him to feel that,” Jake says.
And a true investment it is. The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) reports kids who have a relationship with a caring, non-familial adult are more likely to stay in school, avoid using illegal drugs and break cycles of poverty.
“You have to be able to put yourself aside and know there is a need, that you can make a difference in these kids’ lives.”
Finding her path:
How an LSI internship turned into a career
Lizzy Stuart knew she wanted to help people.
Her passion for serving those in need gave her the drive to earn two college degrees in psychology and sociology from Drake University. Only one thing stood in her way: Lizzy knew she needed an internship before she could make her dream career in human services a reality.
But when she chose an internship at Lutheran Services in Iowa, Lizzy didn’t just take a step toward graduating and starting a career. She made a difference.
LSI provides life-changing outcomes for Iowa children and families through services like mental health care, support for people with disabilities, recruitment of foster and adoptive families, training for refugees, and many more services.
The LSI internship is open to any college major, and the wide range of service lines available provides students with plenty of options to personalize their experience.
“It’s really a win-win for LSI and the students,” said Danielle Caswell, program supervisor at LSI. “I know how much I love it here, so I enjoy passing along the passion. It reminds me why I love my job so much and why I’m at LSI.”
Lizzy found that passion too.
For her, the internship became a stepping-stone to pursue a career in direct support, helping people with disabilities.
Lizzy got her start interning under Danielle’s supervision when a professor recommended LSI to her.
“I took the internship and loved it,” she said. “Danielle let me shape it to whatever I wanted, and I learned so much through it. I had the chance to see different styles of how caregivers were working with people with disabilities, and I got so many different perspectives on it.”
Lizzy’s personality was also a perfect fit for the job, Danielle said. Her upbeat attitude and dedication to her work helped her to create a strong bond both with her co-workers and the people she served.
“She brings a lot of positivity and tons of enthusiasm to the job,” Danielle said. “Her work style is awesome. She’s laid-back but still stays on task and is able to be effective and productive.
Following her internship, Lizzy became a direct care professional with LSI during her senior year at Drake. Working with three clients for a few hours each shift meant the job was flexible, and she could balance a career she loved with her busy class schedule.
Lizzy now provides direct care to clients as a caseworker each week, and has even helped to teach English as a Second Language on LSI’s campus. But she credits her success to her first LSI internship.
“You get to make it whatever you want. If there’s something you want to learn, we can figure it out,” she said. “I was coming into this entirely green, I didn’t know the industry at all. It was amazing to learn so much so fast, and it was tailored around my life.”