Posts Tagged: charity

Live Generously: Liz Fox

Liz FoxLiz Fox, Decorah High School Community Club & Silver Cord Program

They have served up pancakes for Nisse Preschool, set up holiday light displays for Helping Services of Northeast Iowa, collected and sorted books for United Way, cleaned up roadsides for the Decorah Lions Club, and educated area youth about the dangers of tobacco use.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the community service performed by countless Decorah High School students over the years, according to Liz Fox, a language arts instructor who also coordinates the school’s Silver Cord program and advises its Community Club.

“In my 13-year tenure as a teacher at Decorah High School, the one thing that remains constant is the goodness of the students,” she says. “Sometimes teens get a bad rap, but these teens really are committed to serving – and improving – their community.”

It was a group of students at DHS, in fact, who first approached one of their teachers, Cam Forde, in the late 1990s to request permission to form a club focused on community service. Today that organization, the DHS Community Club, boasts more than 30 members who implement a number of annual projects – care to buy a Spirit Button, anyone? – in addition to volunteering on an as-needed basis. “The students are constantly finding new ways to pitch in and help around town,” says Liz, who succeeded Forde as Community Club adviser in 2005. “I derive a lot of satisfaction from the positive energy they bring to the community.”

Last year, after months of planning spearheaded by Principal Kim Sheppard, the high school established a recognition program, Silver Cord, to honor those students who log at least 200 hours of community service by the time they graduate. “It’s been an incredible success – we had 55 seniors perform at least 50 hours of service the first year and earn the distinction last May,” says Liz. “And thanks to the generosity of the Decorah Lions Club, which pays for the cords, the students who earned those cords got to keep them upon graduation.”

Not surprisingly, the willingness of Decorah youth to give back so readily has benefited not only the community but also the teen volunteers. “It’s truly been a win-win for all involved,” says Liz. “The community is grateful for the work the students perform, and the students are thrilled to give back to a community that supports them so deeply.”


Organizations interested in Decorah High School volunteers should contact Fox at
liz.fox@decorah.k12.ia.us. – by Sara Friedl-Putnam

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Live Generously: Carolyn Flaskerud

Carolyn FlaskerudCarolyn Flaskerud, director of the First Lutheran Church Food Pantry in Decorah, does not mince words. “It keeps me busy – happy and healthy,” the octogenarian says of her involvement in the expansion of the Food Pantry – it’s gone from supporting seven families per week to sometimes 250. She punctuates her statements with a smile – one that locals came to trust during her years as a customer service officer for what is now Bank of the West.

Carolyn has been boots on the ground for the Pantry since her retirement in 1998, when her involvement with Decorah Public Library’s Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and her service on First Lutheran Church committees revealed a desperate need for food support in the area. “Getting people in the door in dignified ways is hard for any community,” she explains. People who turn up for state-run food assistance are subject to income verification and other eligibility requirements that can delay the receipt of food.

“These are people who are hungry today, not just when they might be approved. It’s families with children – who don’t learn well at all when they’re hungry – and also elders, who sometimes choose between medicines and food – the ‘heating or eating season’ in winter.”

Carolyn’s specialty, it seems, is turning even the smallest leads into working opportunities for the pantry. In 2003, responding to unemployment in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed a turkey plant in Postville, Iowa, she pushed to get the volunteer-run charity, then operating out of a Sunday School storage closet, registered with the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. This made the pantry eligible to receive high-volume weekly shipments of groceries that are over-produced or nearing expiration date, for example.

Today, the pantry also receives donations from area businesses: Walmart’s Feeding America program, Kwik Star, and Pizza Hut, for example. Many donations also reduce food waste by institutions, such as Decorah’s Luther College. There, college and community volunteers portion-pack leftover cafeteria foods – many of which feature locally grown ingredients – to be stocked at the pantry as frozen meals.

The pantry also collects nonperishable foods from the college dorms, when students are in transition, and has partnered with Luther foodservice provider, Sodexo, to use donated student dining dollars – discretionary money left on the students’ board plans – to purchase 2,700 pounds of rice, beans, pasta, and other staples. “That was the idea of a local student, Blaise Schaeffer, who grew up right across the street from the church,” Carolyn explains. “He told me to iron out the logistics of ordering through Sodexo, and he hit the dorms, rounding up $2,915.99 in student donations.” Carolyn, ever the precise funds manager, rattles off this figure like it’s as familiar as her favorite loafers.

To keep pace with community needs and reduce the stigma of accepting food help, the pantry is savvy with its cash donations, Carolyn says, funding new outreach and visibility whenever possible. 2015 marked the first year of a voucher program that allowed pantry shoppers to buy subsidized produce, fruit, meat, eggs, and honey from Oneota Community Farmers’ Market vendors in downtown Decorah. “Credit there should be given to [Decorah resident] Barb Dale and others,” Carolyn says. “We just made it work last year, and we do need special funding to run the program again.”

In all, the First Lutheran Food Pantry involves 70 or more dedicated volunteers who unload trucks, stock shelves, and assist families in maximizing their weekly product selections, from frozen venison to pureed baby foods. They accept donations of food, time, and financial support. “You can mail it, drop it off, or goodness knows, we’d come pick it up,” Carolyn says, tireless on the subject of her work. “We’ve certainly done that before, and God willing, we’ll keep at it.” – by Kristine Jepsen

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Live Generously: Ward Budweg

Ward BudwegWard Budweg has helped build a library in Rwanda, install a clean-water-catching system in Panama, and paint an orphanage in Peru.

But perhaps no place has benefited more from his unrelenting service ethic than Decorah, Iowa, his home of more than 30 years.

“Pay it forward or give it back – it makes no difference,” says Ward, a local carpenter, handyman, and self-described “helper.” “I just know that without the assistance I received from people in the past, I would not be in a position help others today.”

Today this New Hampton, Iowa, native volunteers as council president of Decorah Lutheran Church and a board member of the Decorah Rotary Club, an organization he has also served as treasurer, vice president, and – you guessed it! – president since becoming a member in 1984. He’s also served on the local Elks Club board, completed terms on local tourism and parks and recreation boards, volunteered as director of the annual Nordic Fest Elveløpet race (during its infancy in the mid-1980s), and helped get the Decorah Rotary Club’s Loop de Loop race – which just marked four years in September – up and, yes, running.

It’s no coincidence that much of Ward’s volunteerism through the years – from chairing meetings to picking up garbage along Highway 9 – has been intertwined with the work of the local Rotary chapter.

Indeed, were it not for the generosity of the New Hampton Rotary Club years ago, says Ward, there’s a very good chance he would never have earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Northern Iowa in 1980.

“They loaned me $1,000 to finish my degree, and I never had to fill out a single piece of paperwork because they trusted me to pay it back,” he recalls. “I repaid that thousand dollars years ago, but I will never be able to repay the kindness, generosity, and belief in me those Rotarians showed. That is what continues to motivate me to give back whenever – and however – I can.”– by Sara Friedl-Putnam

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