Helping seize the day

Volunteers contribute in big ways by doing small tasks for others.
Thursday, July 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:44 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

For the past eight years, Bill Klett, 85, of Columbia has traveled more than 17,000 miles to help 213 people. He drives to pick them up, takes them to a doctor, helps them with grocery shopping and sometimes just visits with them.

He does it, he said, “because I am able. I volunteer to pass along all the good things people did for me during my 85 years,” Klett said.

In Texas, Klett became a hospice volunteer in 1995 after his wife died earlier that year. In 2002, he moved to Columbia to live near his daughter and continues volunteering. He spends time with each person for two to three hours, one to two times a week.

“You just go and sit with someone, and it helps them,” he said. “They get lonely and just need people to talk to. It just makes me feel good inside when you are doing something for people. You have no idea how much fun it has been.”

Similar to Klett, other Seize the Day volunteers feel volunteering connects them to the community. Seize the Day is a local organization that provides those in need with free, non-medical services and supports.

The Columbia organization started in 1993 when it received an initial funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which assists and funds social-service agencies nationwide. Seize the Day operates under the Faith in Action program, created and supported by the RWJ foundation.

Seize the Day’s annual budget is less than $20,000. Donations from individuals and organizations, an annual fund-raising event and the City of Columbia provide the funding.

The purpose of the voluntary efforts is to serve the community by increasing the “capacity to care for each other,” said Robin Reuben, executive director of Seize the Day. The community-based services allow people to live independently and help better “their quality of life and feelings of self-esteem,” Reuben said.

The organization is seeking more volunteers. The grass-roots organization is carried out mostly by word of mouth. There has always been a lack of workers. Although its growth has been slow, Seize the Day has constantly expanded its operations. In 1993 when it started, it served three families, and by 2002, it served 35 families. In 2003, 32 volunteers helped 75 clients, and 12 people were on the waiting list. Currently, 40 volunteers are serving 45 people, and more than 10 clients are on the waiting list.

Clients include people with disabilities, and those with temporary or terminal illnesses. The clients need assistance with transportation, running errands, grocery shopping, housekeeping, companionship and respite for their caregivers.

Volunteers include people who work full time in many professions and students, but Reuben said helpers are mostly retired people who need variety in their lives. It is a great opportunity for both young and older people, she said.

Virginia Bzdek of Columbia, a retired faculty member from the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and former board member of Seize the Day, gives a ride to Betsy Rule of Rocheport every Monday. She picks up Rule and takes her to the Dialysis Clinic in Columbia, which takes Bzdek about 30 minutes each week.

Bzdek said those who would like to volunteer but think they have busy schedules often can find an opportunity to do something that does not take much time, such as transporting people to appointments.

Bzdek also said she needs to connect to others and share things with them.

“When you volunteer with someone, they put trust in you. We are all human beings, concerned about each other,” she said. “That is what a life is all about.”

For Rule, who has suffered two strokes, Bzdek’s assistance is invaluable to her and her family.

“It just means the world to us,” said Ora Belle Rule, Betsy’s mother-in-law. “I have learned about gracious people in this world.”

Shelley Brandenburg, one of the founders and a volunteer of Seize the Day in Columbia, said good volunteers have qualities that include being “open-hearted, concerned, giving, upbeat, willing, flexible and capable of good communication.”

“You are giving your time, you are giving your energy, but you are receiving that immense feeling of relief of people that you have been there,” Brandenburg said. “And you got a friend; you can’t put a price on friendship.”

Klett said he’ll continue to volunteer as long as he’s able.

“I get to meet the nicest people in the world, and in my way,” Klett said. “I’m trying to make the world a better place to live. If you are feeling sorry for yourself, just help somebody else, and you’ll be surprised. This is my calling.”

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