SWFL's SUPER VOLUNTEERS
THEY GIVE. THEY HELP. THEY ASK FOR NOTHING IN RETURN.
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 Maguir e. 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 ne w 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