Exceptional autumn volunteers and ways you can give back
With what’s projected to be another harsh winter headed toward the Midwest, local organizations are preparing to help the community with supplies such as warm clothes, food and shelter. But Amy Weisbrod, executive director of the Stark County Hunger Task Force, said that volunteers are one of the community’s most essential commodities going into fall.
“Volunteers are our lifeline at the Stark County Hunger Task Force. Volunteers run our pantries, and without their time and assistance, we would not be able to do what we do,” she said.
Meet three of Stark County’s most outstanding movers and shakers: Jim Toi, a volunteer with the Stark County Hunger Task Force; Laurie Moline, a founder of United Way’s Get Connected program; and Frank Monaco, a partner with 415 Group who, along with his firm’s associates, gives much of his personal free time during fall to helping organizations such as the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Stark County Hunger Task Force volunteer Jim Toi started volunteering with the organization about a year ago. After retiring from a career as a G.I. with the Air Force, he has spent his downtime taking classes at Kent State University, working at the Hunger Task Force’s food pantry and rescuing displaced dogs. Sometimes, his passions collide.
“A customer came to the counter and they were really upset,” Toi said. “I asked them what was wrong and they said they just got evicted because they had a dog, and I said ‘I rescue dogs’ and they started jumping up and down and crying.” After putting an ad for the Chihuahua online, Toi said 35 people came forward to offer help for the pet, and he was able to screen through them to find the dog a proper home.
“Volunteering has definitely enriched my life and helped me to better understand our community. If you can do something to help somebody, why wouldn’t you do that?” —Lauri Moline
For Toi, volunteering at the pantry is a great way for him to interact with the community and fill some of his free time without adding additional stress to his back, which he injured while in the military. Toi said he has gone so far as to drive pantry customers 8 miles home when they had no other choice but to walk. Often, he said, he uses humor to make customers feel more at ease.
“There are really terrible, hard stories that I hear, and not only giving them food, but by diverting their attention from the hard stuff a little bit, that’s a big help for them, and for me, too.”
Laurie Moline began volunteering with the United Way Women’s Leadership Council in 2004 and now serves as its board president. A major facet of her volunteer work with United Way centers around the creation of the Get Connected program, a program that connects high school students with local companies such as Diebold and Aultman Hospital to teach them how to make meaningful professional connections.
“The more time I was spending in the schools, I was realizing that there were kids that had so many aspirations and so much talent and would be great in a workforce but didn’t have a whole lot of outside direction and support to help them meet their goals,” Moline, who works at Aultman, said. “At the same time, I was seeing businesses that had significant workforce issues, and it just seemed like there was a win-win opportunity—to be able to work with the kids and get them connected with the businesses at a young age.”
That’s when she started to get the wheels spinning on Get Connected. Now, she spends much of her volunteer time mentoring kids like Kristopher Carter, a Malone University freshman who met Moline while in high school, through Get Connected.
“Through this mentoring relationship, for me and Miss Laurie, you find out about yourself, like the things you’re willing to do or what you’re willing to give up through each other’s knowledge and through each other’s willingness to help each other,” Carter said.
Moline agreed that the program has been a win-win situation for both mentors and mentees.
“It’s been eye-opening for both of us—how supportive the relationship has been in terms of helping him achieve his goals—but it also enriches my life, too,” she said. “The things that he shares allow me to be a better board member and to be more in touch with the community and what it takes to help kids achieve their goals.”
Moline has organized a community presentation featuring two inspiring high school wrestlers—Leroy Sutton, who has no legs, and Dartanyon Crockett, who is blind—who were featured in an ESPN story, to be held Thursday, November 13 at Timken High School.
ADDING THINGS UP
Frank Monaco, the managing partner of the Canton accounting firm 415 Group, has taken his devotion to giving back to his community a step further by engaging his firm’s associates in a variety of charitable causes.
“Currently we have approximately 50 associates who give about 3,000 hours of their time to 30 different organizations in Stark and Tuscarawas counties,” Monaco said.
One of the firm’s most-focused causes is providing a financial match for the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank’s Long Haul Against Hunger, a radio fundraiser that supports the food bank every November.
For Monaco and his wife, Sherri, food always has been a tool for connecting with others.
“You’d be surprised how over food, people tend to open up,” he said. “The dinner table’s so important. It’s so hard for us to see people not have such a basic thing—food. My wife and I are passionate about that, and our firm’s passionate about it. All of the associates believe in it. It’s not a hard sell.”
Monaco said that in 2013 alone, 415 Group’s financial match to Long Haul Against Hunger donations provided more than 80,000 meals for those in need.
The accounting firm’s associates are all required to write their own personal “associate’s statements,” encouraging them to home in on what they want to get out of their work and engagements with the community.
Monaco said that 415 Group associates donate their time and money to a slew of local organizations. Kathy S. Krohn, 415 Group principal, acts as the board treasurer of Community Harvest, Inc., while partner Richard L. Craig is Community Services of Stark County’s board president. The firm also offers a paid “Random Act of Kindness Day” off to allow employees to help the community in any way they choose.
“We get pleasure when we achieve our associate’s statements, so servicing other people is very important from the top down to the bottom. We all rally around that, not only as a firm, but as individuals,” Monaco said.