SWFL'S SU­PER VOL­UN­TEERS

THEY GIVE. THEY HELP THEY ASK FOR NOTH­ING IN RE­TURN.

Cape Coral Living - - Cape Home -

South­west Florida is home to sev­eral thou­sand non­prof­its, whose mis­sions range from of­fer­ing life-sav­ing aide in the wake of hur­ri­canes such as Irma, to or­ga­niz­ing cul­tural perks for kids. And with­out their vol­un­teers, many of these agen­cies and in­sti­tu­tions would fall flat. TOTI Me­dia has se­lected a hand­ful of these gen­tle souls to share with our read­ers:

PAWS AS­SIS­TANCE DOGS IN COL­LIER COUNTY

BY BRIGID O’MAL­LEY The golden re­triever puppy looks up at Deb Maguire. The dog’s eyes fo­cus squarely on her face as she en­cour­ages him as he trots along. His fo­cus is the pay­off. “Look at you,” she says. “Look at you!” Maguire is one of a team of 50 or so PAWS As­sis­tance Dogs vol­un­teers help­ing train the dogs to al­low com­bat-wounded mil­i­tary veter­ans and chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties to be more in­de­pen­dent. An av­er­age of 12 golden re­triev­ers get placed with re­cip­i­ents each year. So far, 59 dogs have been put in ser­vice since PAWS be­came a non­profit in 2012. These Col­lier County vol­un­teers tackle ev­ery­thing from puppy house break­ing and so­cial­iza­tion through the long and com­plex train­ing process, which of­ten lasts more than two years. Another team of vol­un­teers helps with of­fice work, fundrais­ing and other projects. PAWS As­sis­tance Dogs vol­un­teers in 2016 do­nated 35,269 hours. Founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Jean­nie Bates nearly tears up when asked about the value of vol­un­teers to the or­ga­ni­za­tion― she couldn’t do it with­out them. With 18 new pup­pies at its Naples train­ing cen­ter by mid-sum­mer, the vol­un­teers (who are trained them­selves by a pro­fes­sional dog trainer) will have their puppy pa­tience tested and their train­ing skills pushed to the limit as more and more lit­tle paws pad around the room and the work­load grows. “I give thanks for them ev­ery day,” Bates says of the PAWS vol­un­teers. “Ev­ery sin­gle day.”

Brigid O’Mal­ley is a writer liv­ing in South­west Florida.

FRIENDS WHO CARE: SANI­BEL COU­PLE’S GIFT THAT KEEPS GIV­ING

BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Theresa Louw­ers was driven by the idea that deeds, good or other­wise, cir­cle back. The non­profit that she co­founded on Sani­bel with her hus­band, Tom, nearly 35 years ago has lived and en­dured by this no­tion. The cou­ple’s non­profit, Friends Who Care, this hol­i­day sea­son will do­nate sleighs full of gifts and de­liver vol­un­teers by the hun­dreds on Sani­bel and Cap­tiva to those most in need on the is­lands. In re­turn, kids, moms and dads with lit­tle to give, se­niors with health and in­come is­sues, each will have a hap­pier hol­i­day. In a sense, those of us liv­ing and work­ing on Sani­bel and Cap­tiva will have given some­thing―money, gifts or time― to help Friends Who Care suc­ceed, large num­bers of the pop­u­la­tion an­swer­ing that an­nual shout for help. “Things came back to Theresa,” Tom Louw­ers says of his wife and life­long com­pan­ion who died in Fe­bru­ary 2015. “I could give you sto­ries to knock your socks off.” Theresa and Tom Louw­ers were givers from child­hood in sub­ur­ban Detroit. Theresa was most af­fected by kids, ad­vo­cat­ing for those fam­i­lies liv­ing day to day, Tom says. Shift­ing their lives to Sani­bel, the cou­ple in 1983 formed Friends Who Care. The ini­tial goal was to help fam­i­lies in cri­sis. The hol­i­days pre­sented a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, how­ever. The cou­ple set up hol­i­day do­na­tion sites at se­lect lo­ca­tions around the is­lands. Ser­vice groups such as Ki­wa­nis, Lions and Ro­tary also gave money and time. What evolved be­came the Friends Who Care Santa Run― vol­un­teers in Santa gear de­liv­er­ing wrapped gifts to those iden­ti­fied by churches, non­prof­its, teach­ers, so­cial agen­cies and others aware of need at the hol­i­days. Theresa and Tom in the

“Kind­ness is a lan­guage which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” —Mark Twain

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