The Volunteer Spirit
For more than five decades a group of South County women has raised tens of thousands of dollars and volunteered countless hours to help other non-profit organizations and needy individuals in the community. This month Jim Hummel sits down with several members - and recipients - to learn more about the club’s motto: Living the Volunteer Spirit.
Click here for more information about the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of South County.
From a horse rescue operation in Saunderstown, to the restoration of an historic grist mill in South Kingstown; to a rolling library run by volunteers and a home repair program that helps elderly residents stay in their homes - the impact has been deep and wide across the southern part of Rhode Island the past five decades.
These programs and many more are all supported by The General Federation of Women’s Clubs of South County, part of a worldwide federation founded in 1890 with a focused mission of improving local communities and the lives of women through volunteer service. Their motto: Live The Volunteer Spirit.
Last year the South County chapter, which was founded more than 50 years ago, quietly distributed $18,000 in grants to nearly two dozen non-profit organizations, supplemented by hundreds of hours of volunteer work from close to 90 club members.
Crane: ``All of our members are required to, and do, give of themselves. So to be a member you have to be willing to roll up the sleeves and help.’’
Diana Crane joined the club more than 15 years ago and is the chairman of the GROW Hope committee, which decides annually which grants to award.
Crane: ``The last couple of years we’ve had people applying, which are triple the amount of money we have. I have a spreadsheet, I put it all on, brief description of each of the organizations and what they’re asking for; and then we sit down, very democratically, and discuss and kind of barter a bit until we get it down to the number we have to have.’’
The grants falls into four major categories:
The Arts, Conservation, Education and Social Services.
Locally the club has supported Horseplay, a rescue organization that has taken in dozens of abused, neglected and unwanted, horses, letting them live out their lives in Saunderstown.
The club also contributed to the South Kingstown Land Trust to help restore The historic Samuel Perry Grist Mill, which produces cornmeal to make Rhode Island’s own johnnycakes.
Also receiving support: Neighbors Helping Neighbors, based in Charlestown that makes repairs for low-income and elderly residents of South County, who might not otherwise be able to stay in their homes. Neighbors covers everything, including materials and labor.
Kubricky :``In the beginning I was just fascinated there was this woman’s club and it was a bunch of nice women who were doing good things for the town. Then I researched it more and found out that it went back to the 1800s as an international organization and the things the club did were absolutely amazing.’’
Tracy Kubricky is the co-chair of the club’s primary fundraiser: an annual Book and Author Luncheon at the Dunes Club in Narragansett - this past summer it drew 300 people and raised more than $20,000.
Kubricky: ``And it’s our only fundraiser so all 75 women have a hand in it. We actually started working on July 2017 fundraiser, we started working on it in September.’’
Peno: ``In order for me to provide for three children I needed an education.’’
Sheryl Peno found the club gives out more than just the organizational grants. Peno, a single mom of three, was working at Brightview Senior Living in Wakefield, and trying to earn her bachelor’s degree from URI. She had everything covered except for one crucial item.
Peno: ``I just wanted a computer and with help paying for books. And that was huge to me, because I had spent so much time out of the house. My kids were young and trying to help me, like laundry and cooking. It was hard for me to help them with their homework while I was trying to get my homework done, which meant if I didn’t have a computer I had to go to the library.’’
With the help from the club’s scholarship Peno went on to earn her degree and has worked her way up to being the community sales director at Brightview, which hosts some of the club’s meetings and is a corporate sponsor for the Book and Author Luncheon.
Peno: ``Here I am now helping a group that helped me move forward with what I was doing. And I also want others to know that you can’t let somebody stop you from getting your dreams and the women’s club really helped that. So for me I kind of feel like I was put here in this position at Brightview to work with the women’s club to show others how important it is to keep going for your dreams and know there are people out there that are going to support your dream and they want to see you succeed.
Once a month two club members meet at the South Kingstown Public Library to volunteer for the Rolling Library program. By the end of the day they will have distributed a month’s worth of reading material to eight largely homebound people.
Babcock: ``I had just become a member of the women’s club and I was looking really to make some new friendships and then to do something in the community to kind of give back because I had received so much in the past. And so this fit the bill, the rolling library fit the bill.’’
Judy Babcock is one of seven volunteers and has been with the program since it began 15 years ago.
Babcock: ``It was a project that the women’s club took on because they were realizing in the communities of Narragansett and South Kingstown that homebound seniors didn’t have access to library services - they came up with the idea of a mobile library, a rolling library.’’
Librarian Jessica Wilson picks out the books - based on a questionnaire each recipient fills out about reading preferences. Wilson has jumped in on occasion to help with the deliveries.
Wilson: `` It’s wonderful to go and visit people with something to talk about. That doesn’t have to do with how are you feeling, and what is your care? You just talk with them like a regular person.’’
Just up the street is The Welcome House, which this year marks its 30th anniversary as an emergency shelter in South County. The women’s club donated much-needed furniture for off-site housing.
Dziobek: ``It gives us discretionary dollars to do new things, innovative things that wouldn’t be possible with state dollars, that are committed for a certain thing; you know, keep the lights on, staff the program.’’
Executive Director Joseph Dziobek arrived at Welcome House a year ago from Lincoln.
Dziobek: ``I wasn’t aware of their existence, but I have since become aware of how much they’ve done for this place over the years with regards to hands on stuff, painting , carpeting, participating in walks that we did for fundraisers.’’
Kubricky: ``We want people to know that we exist, the people that came to our book and author last year we had so many people that enjoyed it they actually to joined the club. So it would be nice to have more members, because the more members the more things we can do for the community.’’
Crane: ``I had no idea of most of the needs, until I joined the women’s club. I knew about domestic violence resource center, of course, And courthouse center for the arts, some of the organizations, but not the deep-seeded need that is here to help people.’’
Crane says the feedback she and other club members gets is incredible.
Crane: ``When somebody comes up with a smile and says thank you, we never would have been able to fund this program, give this to people we serve without the women’s club help.’’
In South County, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.