Norm Terando has volunteered with Westminster since 2000. He became a regular after retiring from Dow AgroScience, where he served as an organic chemist. As soon as he could, Terando joined his wife Sue at Westminster. She has been volunteering since the ‘90s.
“We’re here every week they’re open,” Terando says while drinking coffee with visitors to Westminster’s weekly food pantry and soup kitchen. “It’s our way of giving back. It’s something we want to do.”
In fact, volunteering at Westminster has become routine. “It’s a part of our life,” says Terando. “Everyone seems to enjoy it. Volunteers come and go, but we have a core group.”
Some of the volunteers come from Terando’s church, Faith Presbyterian. Other churches are represented among the volunteers. Terando says they also get a big assist from community hospitals. “It seems like we always have enough people to help us out,” he says. “We always make it. Sometimes we’re a little thin, but we always get the job done.” Terando aids Westminster in other ways, too. One recent Saturday, he and other volunteers helped with much-needed building maintenance.
“We got everything looking really good,” he reports.
Lakeisha has had her fair share of turmoil. A house fire, the second one she’s dealt with in her life, displaced her and her three children, all of whom are enrolled in Westminster’s preschool and afterschool programs. With such a traumatic event in her life, Lakeisha was at least able to get basic needs from Westminster.
“Ever since then, Westminster has given us a lot,” she says. “They’ve given my kids food and clothing – basically everything they need.”
It goes beyond that, however. Lakeisha has seen a positive change in her children since they started attending Westminster.
“They’ve had a lot of improvement on their grades,” she says. “The afterschool program has really helped them with their homework.”
Come to Westminster on a Thursday morning and you’ll likely see Doreen Collord. She has been volunteering here for 10 years along with her husband Paul, who also served on Westminster’s board. “I love the people,” she says as her reason for giving so much time to Westminster. “Some of them are cranky, but most of them are wonderful. I even love the cranky ones.” Doreen has never had to face the hardship that Westminster’s guests endure. It’s a reminder of how it could be and how important it is to assist others. “This is something God told us to do – help people who need help,” Doreen says as she warmly greets a visitor on a typical Thursday morning at Westminster.
Julie has five children. One of them almost didn’t survive. He was born three months prematurely and had an extended hospital stay. Westminster stepped in to help her with basic needs.
“They’ve been wonderful to me and my kids,” she says. “Westminster gave me formula and diapers. They helped me with everything.”
Julie goes so far to say she doesn’t know what she would’ve done without Westminster’s assistance. They were there when she needed them most.
“They were my only supportive help,” says Julie, who was born and raised in the Westminster neighborhood. “My sister would help me when she could, but Westminster was the biggest one.”
By day, Tim Junk is deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana. During his free time, he volunteers by serving on Westminster’s board of directors, the construction workgroup, the capital campaign committee, and as chair of the program committee. He also provides pro-bono legal services for WNS and can be found most Saturday mornings serving with the building and grounds crew here.
“I am fortunate to have come from a stable family and have worked to take advantage of the opportunities that life has allowed to come my way,” Junk says. “Working behind the scenes at Westminster supports those who begin to make these opportunities available to young people in our city. You don’t always think of this when you’re tired and dirty from working all Saturday morning, but what we’ve accomplished here over the decades is one of the most meaningful aspects of my life.”
Life hasn’t always dealt Abel Mayes a winning hand.
The Butler-Tarkington native, who now lives in Cumberland, has volunteered for Westminster’s pantry services since January 2014. That kind of work often entails a lot of heavy lifting, something Mayes shouldn’t be doing much of but feels compelled to do.
That’s because almost four years ago, Mayes was idling at a stoplight when another driver rear-ended his truck. The collision broke his thumb, some vertebrae, jammed his hips and totaled his vehicle. Consequently, his injuries left him unable to continue working as a commercial truck driver. Subsequent janitorial work didn’t pan out either, because he couldn’t keep up with the physical demands.
Mayes credits his spirituality for getting him through those hard times.
“You just have to stand on faith and be patient,” he says. “You have to have trials. If it’s all ice cream and peach pie, you don’t learn.”
While being permanently disabled may prevent Mayes from working his old jobs, he’s not letting it stop him from contributing at Westminster. Usually multiple days a week he can be found unpacking and sorting donations and whatever else needs to be done with the pantry services.
“It’s just a nice, mellow atmosphere,” he says of WNS. “The people are nice and not pushy, considerate and intelligent, accepting. That makes a nice work atmosphere.”
Mayes is especially impressed with the holistic approach Westminster takes when working with struggling families.
“They pretty much cover it A to Z,” he says, noting how WNS is quickly expanding its adult education component now that the family and adult services center is open. Mayes considers education an absolute priority in escaping poverty.
“One of the worst things you can do is settle for less,” he says. “You’re going to keep having less if that’s what you settle for. I’m a firm believer in education. It just makes your life better, gives you more understanding of the world and society and people – everything. It doesn’t mean you get to be Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, but you can still have a sustainable life. Not knowing and understanding makes you angry.”
Tyrell was a first-grader at Westminster. He began working with a mentor, who saw tremendous improvement in his work over time.
Tyrell was unable to recognize the sight words required for him to pass on to the next grade level. Initially, he was only able to recognize a couple of the words without much help. Now he is able to recognize all of the sight words.
When Tyrell started in Westminster’s program, he was very quiet and barely spoke. He struggled with the basic things he needed to know for kindergarten, including his alphabet, writing and saying numbers, color recognition and how to write his name. Tyrell started working with a reading specialist, and she encouraged him to learn all of these things. She also was able to help him focus on completing his homework.
Over the last few years, Tyrell has become very independent and has grown academically.
Kamari is a senior in high school and a WNS K-8 program alum. When he was a young participant in the program, Westminster’s staff enjoyed having time to talk to Kamari one-on-one, as he was usually the first student to arrive for program. Staff remembers Kamari stating that he believed “there has to be something out there that causes all diseases, or something that will cure them. I think I can find it.” They knew he had the gifts to do that.
Unfortunately, Kamari struggled to overcome various problems in his family. In fact, he once spent the night in one of the neighborhood’s many vacant houses to avoid what he perceived would be punishment for damaging his school uniform earlier that day. Suffering from hypothermia, he returned to school the next day. Once he was admitted to the hospital, his family made the difficult decision to place him in a counseling program, which kept him out of his home for several days. Kamari worked with counselors and his family to mend the issues that led to his “running away.” In the years since, Westminster has continued to work with his younger siblings as well as his mother to ensure they have access to the support they need to move forward.
Today, Kamari is second in his high school class academically, with his sights on becoming valedictorian. And just recently, he entered the office beaming. With a smile from ear to ear, he explained that he had just received word that he had received a full-ride scholarship to one of 35 Ivy League and other highly-acclaimed universities. He told the staff about his plans to attain an undergraduate degree in microbiology or pharmacy. Then he plans to earn his doctorate in pharmacology from Purdue.
Kamari continues to apply for scholarships that will enable him to complete his doctorate. Westminster’s staff has worked to continue encouraging Kamari and will continue to support his efforts, offering to review his applications and provide support as he moves forward. Kamari is a living example that investment in youth is well worth it.
Jim Runnels sums up his volunteerism with the Biblical passage Luke 12:48 – “to whom much is given, much is required.”
The longtime member of Fairview Presbyterian Church first learned of Westminster when serving on his church’s missions committee. Shawn Coons, one of Fairview’s co-pastors, suggested volunteering at WNS as a way for Fairview members to give back to the community. Runnels learned more about Westminster’s mission when former Volunteer Coordinator and Chaplain Katie Scott visited Fairview to explain the program.
Runnels looked into volunteering at Westminster after retiring from AT&T in December 2013, where he worked 29 years in information technology.
“Unloading trucks in the heavy snow and cold of January was rewarding, although finding out there was no elevator was a minor disappointment,” Runnels says, referring to WNS’s nearly century-old early childhood and youth building, which also used to house the organization’s pantry services until WNS moved into its own facility in January 2015. “I’ve been coming back at least twice a week since then.”
Westminster is blessed that Runnels volunteers to work in the food pantry every Thursday, unloading deliveries from Gleaners and Midwest Food Bank and helping with buildings and grounds upkeep on Saturday mornings.
Runnels enjoys assisting clients, as well as working alongside Westminster’s other volunteers and its staff. He notes some of those volunteers have been contributing their time and talents for many years.
“I am inspired by the compassion and respect they show the clients, and the passion and enthusiasm they have for the programs,” Runnels says. “I consider it a privilege being able to serve, and look forward to continuing to support this important ministry.”
That was some 15 years ago. Montross learned about WNS through a bulletin board flyer at her church, Second Presbyterian. Growing up in Irvington and initially teaching special education at what was then James. E. Roberts School 97, Montross knew a thing or two about the Eastside of Indianapolis.
“It has a lot of strengths and some challenges,” she says of the area. “I thought I’d be comfortable here. I started coming in and Mrs. (Ethel) Kemp would pair me with a student who needed help with homework. That’s how I got started.”
Over time, Montross started feeling pulled in a different direction professionally, especially when she began volunteering at Crossroads Rehabilitation Center.
“I just started thinking about some things I wanted to do,” Montross says. “It seemed like social work was the right direction.”
She returned to school to earn a degree in social work and finished her practicum at the John H. Boner Community Center. Retired now, Montross’ second career was spent in the St. Vincent Stress Center. She still likes volunteering in schools, though, as well as at Second Presbyterian. Though Montross has also served in Westminster’s pantry services program, it’s the children who have mainly kept her coming back all these years.
“They’re just lovely and lovable,” she says. “They may have their challenges, but it’s important to get young kids reading and wanting to learn. If they aren’t instilled with that at a young age, they’re going to struggle later in life. They like having someone pay attention to them, and I really like being with them.”