Community

Local volunteers gain satisfaction - and governor's award

Joe Ryder has delivered meals, cleaned equipment in 'win-win' program

Joe Ryder closes the door of a machine after running a wash cycle for a resident’s wheelchair Wednesday at Living Center East in Cedar Rapids. Ryder was among those recognized this week at the Governor’s regional Volunteer Awards ceremony in Marion. (Photo by Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Joe Ryder closes the door of a machine after running a wash cycle for a resident’s wheelchair Wednesday at Living Center East in Cedar Rapids. Ryder was among those recognized this week at the Governor’s regional Volunteer Awards ceremony in Marion. (Photo by Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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MARION — Like many fellow millennials, Joe Ryder has had a number of jobs.

He’s delivered Meals on Wheels, cleaned equipment at the Marion YMCA, rolled silverware at Bickford Cottage and performed tasks at Mercy Medical Center.

Perhaps the job Ryder, 20, has enjoyed most is washing wheelchairs at Living Center East, where he volunteers twice a week.

Ryder and six fellow Linn-Mar High School students were among those recognized Monday at the regional Governor’s Volunteer Awards ceremony at Linn-Mar High School in Marion.

Gov. Kim Reynolds praised the students and more than 120 other volunteers, ranging in age from high school students to people who have been donating their time for up to 50 years.

Their willingness to volunteer is the “driving force behind our communities and truly speaks to the very fabric of who we are as Iowans,” Reynolds said.

The recognition ceremonies are a 35-year-old tradition started by Robert Ray when he was governor.

“Volunteering your time is one of the most impactful ways that you can get involved,” Reynolds said. “It proves the strength of our character and the power of our values are alive and well in Iowa.”

According to the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, 72 percent of Iowans volunteer formally or informally.

That, Reynolds said, simply is “Iowans doing what Iowans do — offering a helping hand.”

Ryder and other special needs students in the Success Center program learn what’s called “aids to daily living,” such as dressing themselves, doing laundry, shopping for groceries and preparing meals, Bill and Jill Ryder said.

In addition, they volunteer for three or more internships in a semester.

“It’s been great for Joe,” his dad says, explaining that like many people with Down syndrome, Joe functions best when he has structure and a routine of school and the Success Center. “It satisfies him.”

Washing wheelchairs at Living Center East isn’t part of the Success Center, but something the Ryders arranged to keep Joe involved in a job experience through the summer.

“It’s been great,” Jill Ryder adds. “The ultimate is to find something that keeps him involved.”

At Mercy, which partners with Linn-Mar, Prairie and Cedar Rapids schools, the students assemble patient information packets, put maps at entrances, stock kiosks with tissues and masks and distribute fruit water to staff.

It’s not just an opportunity for the students to learn jobs skills, said Judy Shimek, who coordinates the program with Linn-Mar, Prairie and Cedar Rapids schools.

“They learn social skills, too,” Shimek said.

She calls the Success Center program a “win-win” because the students are learning job skills, “and they’re able to do tasks that we not able to be fulfilled by staff on daily basis. And we enjoy having them here.”

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A complete list of volunteers recognized by Volunteer Iowa can be found at volunteeriowa.org/document/2018-governors-volunteer-awards-program.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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