A Spirit of Caring
LSSI Launches Awards Program for Volunteers

Eye on LSSI, Spring 2005 ( Download PDF of entire publication)

“It takes a special kind of person to visit within the prison system,” says Betty Stralow (right), coordinator of LSSI’s Prisoner and Family Ministry program at Dixon Correctional Center, with volunteer Marilyn Ward.They give their time and energy with no thought of compensation. They come after work and on weekends. They come after they have sent their children to school for the day. They come in their retirement. They are young, old and middle-aged, and they come from all walks of life.

They are the volunteers of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), who do everything from providing services directly to clients to helping in the background to administer or raising funding for programs. Their numbers strengthen and enhance the mission of the organization. LSSI could not survive without them.

This year (2005), LSSI is inaugurating a new annual awards program to recognize the efforts of its many volunteers, which number approximately 900. Three award categories have been created: the Spirit of Caring; the Spirit of Giving; and the Young Leaders Awards. Nominations are based on a volunteer’s leadership and initiative in fund-raising, administering programs or serving clients. LSSI is granting Spirit of Giving and Spirit of Caring Awards this year and hopes to promote and spur interest in the Young Leaders Award for next year’s nominations.

“LSSI is such a large agency, and there are so many volunteers who are contributing to enhance the services that we offer,” explains Beth Stockbridge, coordinator of volunteerism and church relations. “We wanted to have an awards program to recognize their efforts. There is such a diversity of things that people are doing. The awards help to highlight those people whom you otherwise might not hear about and who are integral to what we are doing.”

This year, the Spirit of Giving Award, which recognizes volunteers who assist in fundraising or administrative capacities, is going to Howard Sauerman, who led an effort to renovate an LSSI counseling office housed in the parsonage of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, in Villa Park. Two Spirit of Caring Awards, which recognize direct service to clients, are being given. One is being awarded to Wilson Kruger, who helped manage a multi-denominational relief effort for victims of a devastating tornado that hit communities in southern tip of Illinois in May 2003. The second is being awarded to a group of 11 volunteers from two LSSI-sponsored programs at the Dixon Correctional Center.

Spirit of Giving Award Winner: Howard Sauerman

In the spring of 2003, an appeal letter from LSSI got Howard Sauerman, a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wheaton, thinking about volunteering. He called Nancy Lenz, program director of LSSI’s eight suburban church-based counseling centers, to see what he could do to help. Thinking that LSSI’s West Suburban Counseling Center (Villa Park), located in the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church parsonage, could use some dressing up, a surprised Lenz said, “Maybe we could use some painting.”

The tired exterior of the counseling center caught Howard’s attention. Soon he was organizing a rehabilitation effort, recruiting a crew of about 50 volunteers of all ages from six other Lutheran churches in the area. Under Howard’s guidance, they quickly set about rebuilding the back stairs and new cellar door, and repainting the exterior of the old parsonage. Then, they went on to the interior, laying new flooring and shoring up the sagging roof. Howard became active in the Thrivent chapter of his church and through it helped to raise $4,000 for materials and supplies for these projects. More recently, the tireless volunteer took on other challenges, seeing to it that the roof was replaced (thanks to Showalter Roofing) and the attic was rehabbed.

Howard confesses that he is not handy. But his skills lie in finding and inspiring those who are. His crew included his son, a plumber; his son-in-law, a carpenter; a painting contractor at his church; an architect; another contractor and youth from local congregations.

“Howard’s ‘Spirit of Caring’ is hard to contain,” says Lenz, in her nomination of him. “Working as we all do with such limited budgets, we are tremendously grateful for his commitment and dedication to the physical needs of our program and for the friendships made along the way.”

Spirit of Caring Award Winner: Wilson Kruger

Ever since he retired in 1995, Wilson Kruger, an active member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Metropolis, has been part of an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) team of volunteers who do construction work each summer for churches that need repair.

But in the summer of 2003, Wilson cancelled his participation in that program to serve his own community. In May, a deadly tornado had ripped a three-quarter-mile swath 38 miles long through several communities in Pope, Massac and Pulaski counties at the southern tip of Illinois. About 198 families suffered the devastation. Wilson’s home fortunately escaped the tornado’s path.

A disaster relief program consisting of an interdenominational group that included Lutherans, United Methodists, Baptists and Mennonites was coordinated out of the LSSI Southern Regional Office in Marion. “I had the privilege of working with 12 congregations,” recalls Wilson, who was responsible for following up on referrals from case managers, gathering estimates for repairs, and scheduling and coordinating the repair work, helping some 41 families.

A few times, Wilson strapped on his tool belt. “I didn’t want my tools to get rusty, so I helped one family with some additions to their house,” he says.

Todd Thorodopolis, the district case manager who oversaw the team, said in his nomination of Wilson, “His initiative to assure the work was completed went beyond normal duties. In several cases, the quality of work was not satisfactory, so he made sure it was corrected, sometimes correcting the work himself.”

Wilson has volunteered elsewhere at LSSI. Last April, he helped with LSSI’s “Hammering Out A Partnership” auction in Carbondale, a benefit for LSSI’s Building Homes: Rebuilding Lives program. Last fall, he headed up a paint and repair program at Hospitality House of Vienna, which provides affordable lodging for families visiting incarcerated loved ones in nearby prisons.

Wilson says he was surprised and honored by the LSSI award. “I didn’t do it for a reward,” he explains. And when asked why he volunteers so generously, he is stumped. “I don’t know,” he responds. “It feels good, I guess … I’ll continue to work wherever I am needed.”

Spirit of Caring Award Winners: LSSI Prisoner and Family
Ministry Volunteers

“It takes a special kind of person to visit within the prison system,” says Betty Stralow, coordinator of LSSI’s Prisoner and Family Ministry program at the Dixon Correctional Center.

Betty nominated 11 of those special persons for the Spirit of Caring Award: Christina Barnickel and Marilyn Ward of Compton; Tom and Jean Mahon of Leaf River; Carl and Leona Nelson of Mt. Morris; Sonja Magnifici, Betty Fish and Peg Ulferts of Dixon; and Peter and Marion Rasmussen of Lanark. They range in age from 30s to 70s.

Betty, who wishes she could nominate all of the many loyal volunteers, narrowed it down to these 11 because they are able to volunteer for both of LSSI’s programs at Dixon: the Thursday Ministry and the Storybook Project.

On the second and fourth Thursday of every month, two or three of the volunteers spend time with a group of men who are part of the prison’s Special Treatment Center. The volunteers put together an art or craft project for the men and an inspirational devotion and prayer. This program is more demanding of volunteers because it is held on a workday and requires extra time and thought in preparation.

The Storybook Project meets on the second Saturday of every month. Eight volunteers help men from the prison’s general population read and record portions of books on cassette tapes, and the tapes and books are then mailed home to their children. The program helps these men, who are fathers and grandfathers, keep a bond with their children.

Christina Barnickel, who has volunteered for many different activities throughout her life, says she was initially nervous when faced with the prospect of working with inmates.

“But then, I had my first visit, and it was such a blessing,” she reflects. “I felt a wonderful peace, and I felt that we were truly doing God’s work. I encourage everyone to take that leap of faith and see for themselves what it’s all about.”

Volunteers sign up ahead of time and are scheduled according to their availability. Anyone interested in volunteering for LSSI’s programs at Dixon should contact Betty Stralow at 815/772-2387, or bettypfm@yahoo.com.

For more information on opportunities to volunteer at LSSI, contact Beth Stockbridge at 815/535-7179 or Elisabeth.Stockbridge@LSSI.org.