Two Stories of Community Service

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'” Meet two Virginia Mason team members who exemplify the spirit of service. We thank Ann Kruse and Carolyn Haas for sharing their stories of volunteering, and celebrate all Virginia Mason team members who choose to serve others. It is one way we can all help build the “beloved community” envisioned by Dr. King.

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Ann enjoys the view while volunteering.

Rewards of trailblazing
If volunteering sounds like one more way to make your life busier, it could just be the way you’re looking at it. When Ann Kruse works on trail restoration projects with the Wilderness Volunteers, she feels like she is finally slowing down.

“I spend a lot of time in the wilderness,” says Ann, an Organizational Development consultant with Virginia Mason. “It used to be that I traveled quickly, just passing through on my way to somewhere else, such as climbing to a summit. But on the trail service trips, I get to spend a lot of time in one place, getting to know it intimately, from the vegetation to the wildlife to hidden rock carvings.”

When Ann and her husband did their first service trip, they backpacked deep into the Escalante River Canyon in Utah, where they helped remove tamarisk, an invasive tree that threatens natural habitat and vegetation. They were soon hooked and wanted to do more.

Since then, they have joined a number of trips sponsored by Wilderness Volunteers, a nonprofit organization supporting the maintenance and preservation of public lands. Their projects have included trail maintenance in the Grand Canyon; “re-vegetating” in Canyonlands National Park in Utah; and removing barbed wire fencing from a newly acquired piece of public land near Chaco Canyon, a protected site in New Mexico. Sometimes they carry everything they will need in their backpacks, including camping gear, food and tools. Sometimes they get to camp near their cars.

It’s hard work, but well worth it to Ann when she sees the results of the group’s efforts at the end of the week. “You work with great people who are there because they value the wilderness,” says Ann. “It’s actually very satisfying being so exhausted. You certainly get a good night’s sleep!”

Ann’s husband, Curt, has become a leader of Wilderness Volunteers trips. Some take place here in Washington, and Ann occasionally joins him. She says it’s a gratifying way to spend time away from work – getting her hands dirty for a greater cause while living her passion for the wilderness.

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Carolyn and her buddy Khloe.

Step by step: running and friendship
You never know what’s going to help you connect with another person, so Executive Assistant Carolyn Haas figured she’d try singing a Patsy Cline song. As a volunteer running buddy to fifth grader Khloe, Carolyn got a big thumbs up. “You should be on The Voice!” exclaimed Khloe.

Carolyn met Khloe last spring while volunteering for Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit program designed to empower girls in third through eighth grades to recognize their own abilities and develop life strategies, with a healthy dose of exercise (walking and running) thrown in. To prepare for the non-competitive 5K run at the course’s end, each girl is assigned a running buddy to practice with twice a week.

“I know kids today don’t get the exercise we used to get,” says Carolyn, who was invited to volunteer by a Virginia Mason colleague. “So I broke it down with Khloe by saying ‘We’re going to run to that stop sign,’ or ‘Let’s run to that big rock.'”

During their after-school running sessions, Carolyn would learn about some of the daily challenges her young buddy faced. Khloe relayed the pain of being teased and dealing with bullies. “I would tell her not to listen to them, that she is a beautiful girl,” says Carolyn.

At the celebration event after the 5K run, Carolyn met Khloe’s dad and grandmother, who turned out to live just down the street from Carolyn. Khloe’s dad talked about how important Girls on the Run had been for his daughter, especially since he was raising her as a single parent. The best part for Carolyn was receiving Khloe’s thank you message a short time later. She wrote how nice it was to be encouraged, even when her legs were wobbly, and how lucky Carolyn’s next running buddy will be.

“I can’t wait to do it again this spring,” says Carolyn. “It is so rewarding.”

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A version of this article was originally published on Virginia Mason’s internal news site.

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