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MAVA Monthly Membership Spotlight: Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging

Holly Daniels | Published on 4/7/2022



The Dancing Sky Staff (Warren office) Front: Judy Flaten, Helen Phalen, Ilayne Potcek, Holly Daniel

The Dancing Sky Staff (Warren office)

Front: Judy Flaten, Helen Phalen, Ilayne Potcek, Holly Daniels
Back: Darla Waldner, Amanda Russell, Beth Budziszewski

 

On a very cold, sunny Thursday morning in March, I drove out to Warren, MN to visit a MAVA Member: Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging. I went to high school in Warren, and was surprised to find that Dancing Sky AAA, along with their umbrella organization, the Northwest Regional Development Commission, were housed in what used to be the local hospital — in fact, my mom was born there!

In my nearly six months at MAVA, this was my first non-Zoom, in-person connection meeting. I was expecting a quiet chat with a couple people, and what I got was a party. I arrived to find a breakfast spread with muffins, fruit, and coffee, with six place settings. “Nobody ever visits us up here!” said Beth Budziszewki, who is the supervisor of the Senior Linkage Line.

Who else was there:
Helen Phalen, Senior Linkage Line Phone Specialist
Danica Robson, Development Supervisor
Darla Waldner, Program Director
And Ilayne Potucek, one of their regular volunteers


Benefits of volunteering

We talked about the benefits of volunteering, and how the benefits aren’t always obvious right away. Darla told a story of an older volunteer who was working on a project putting together stacks of informational folders. One day, the volunteer realized that the project had improved her finger dexterity so much that she could suddenly open her own coffee creamer packets again.

I asked Ilayne, “What are the benefits of volunteering for you?”

“It gets me out of the house,” she said, “I’ve made so many new friends. And it makes me feel good when they’re happy with the work I’ve done. Plus I like to laugh so we do that here.”

As evidence that the group laughs a lot, Helen was telling me about the red superhero-style capes they wear at heath fairs. She left the room and came back modeling the cape. She said they were “a great conversation starter” at networking events.

Helen modeling the cape she wears to health fair networking events
Helen modeling the cape she wears to health fair networking events

 

Favorite MAVA Member Benefit

Beth said her favorite MAVA Member benefit was seeing the chatter on the MAVA Voice Discussion Board. MAVA Voice is a place where volunteer engagement leaders can go to ask questions about background check protocols and volunteer management software preferences, among other things.


Small-town volunteerism

Dancing Sky is one of seven Minnesota Area Agencies on Aging. Their goal is to work with rural communities to help older adults stay in control of their choices.

I asked, “How is rural volunteerism different than in bigger cities?”

 

“There’s a lot of driving. Plus in the winter it’s even harder. Winter activities just have that little bit of shadow to them,” said Beth.

“For our volunteers who are older, traveling can be a hardship for them,” Helen added. “If it’s icy, they don’t come.”

 

Isolation was already common for rural seniors, but for Minnesota’s aging population, COVID has been hard to bounce back from.

 

“Once you quit going out for coffee, going for cards, it’s hard to start that back up again,” said Beth.

 

So Beth and Helen started a “friendly visiting” program with telephone check-ins, to provide essential social interaction to seniors.

 

“They would call and say — ‘I think I need someone to visit with,’” Helen said. “Everyone wants to feel seen, valued, and heard. They need that stable connection to the world.”

 

Uncovering volunteer gifts

Another value of small-town volunteerism is having those close community ties. In rural settings, you can be more in touch with what the needs are, and also more in touch with your volunteers.

They had a volunteer named Elden, who loves to learn. He started a class for seniors called Senior Surf, about how to be on the internet. They had another volunteer who realized they could save themself $1,000 on medications, and then started volunteering to do medication comparisons for others.

Danica, referring to Elden, said, “When you get to know a volunteer, you can unlock and find all kinds of gifts and interests you didn’t know about, and then they can start using those for different tasks.”

“It’s pretty magical,” said Beth.


Conclusion

Thank you to Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging for being MAVA members, and for welcoming me so warmly!

Before I left, Beth showed me around their building. You’d never know it used to be a hospital, but she showed me a “blood tubing” label in one of the cupboards. She pointed toward what used to be the morgue, and joked that upon moving in, they “saged the place.” Danica’s office has a window looking into it — she sits where newborn babies were once on display