Rick McKernan has lived in Columbia since 1992. Encouraged by his good friend and fellow Optimist, along with his experience as a youth camp counselor in France during his college years, he joined the Downtown Optimist Club in 1998.
The Downtown Optimist Club employs many projects, such as their oratorical contest, essay contest, Bicycle Safety Class, Soap Box Derby, as well as providing financial support for local sports, food, and scholarship programs.
One particular project that Rick is especially proud of is Homes For Computers. “Before COVID-19, a substantial number of Columbia students did not have regular access to computers at home to help with school work. The Homes For Computers project was a great way to equalize educational opportunities by putting computers into the homes of kids who might otherwise not have that advantage,” Rick explained.
Through Homes for Computers, surplus computers from the City of Columbia are given to low income individuals and families identified by the Voluntary Action Center. The Downtown Optimist Club provides their building on Grand Avenue for the distribution and club members help clean, test, and assist recipients in loading their computers. The program started in 2003.
After Optimist International created an internet safety program to help kids safely navigate the web, Rick said the program was the “perfect marriage.”
Rick, now a 23 year member of the program, says “Volunteer Columbia, along with the Optimist Club, provide a small way for me to give back, to show my gratitude, and hopefully make a difference in the life of a child.”
As the City’s Volunteer Program celebrates 25 years in 2021, we will highlight several long-time volunteers for their service. In February, we recognize Barb Melson. Barb is a volunteer with the Adopt-A-Spot Beautification Program and was previously recognized as the Volunteer of the Month in 2008
Barb cares for a median bed on Park de Ville Drive, just north of Broadway in west Columbia. She started with the program in the spring of 2004 and with the help of her husband, Bob, has shared hundreds of hours of service. Their spot has shared color and beauty for 17 years!
What Barb shared in 2008 continues to be true, “As we work, people are always stopping and thanking us for the beautiful flowers and work we do to help their neighborhood look nice.”
Barb is known for her endless energy! She was a physical education teacher with Columbia Public Schools for 37 years and since has had a career as a realtor. The City of Columbia says a big thank you to Barb and Bob for their work in Park de Ville Drive – it has been enjoyed by many!
Volunteer Columbia celebrates 25 years of connecting residents to service opportunities in local government in 2021. Throughout the year, we will highlight the efforts of long-time volunteers.
After an attempt to get into the Air Force, Ed Kaiser subconsciously found himself being a volunteer officer in the Columbia Police Reserves. The reserves were a diverse force of 40 dedicated volunteers serving their community.
Through the Police Reserves, Ed met a battalion chief with the Columbia Fire Department who requested Ed accompany him on an inspection tour for his company to look for hazardous materials. Ed realized storage and disposal of hazardous materials was an issue that needed a solution immediately.
After being made aware of extremely harmful hazardous materials in local buildings, it dawned on him the possible hazardous materials in homes. This concern led him to pen a letter to the City of Columbia. With his “Ivory tower” experience as he explained (thanks to his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Purdue University) Ed made it a priority to teach firefighters about hazardous materials. Ed then developed a program for residents to dispose of their hazardous materials in cooperation with the City’s Solid Waste Utility. Household Hazardous Waste collection, developed by Ed, accepts your materials every 1st & 3rd Saturday mornings, April through November, at the Grissum Building, 1313 Lakeview Avenue.
In approaching the 25th anniversary of Volunteer Columbia, Ed responded: “To thine own self be true…”. Ed and his wife, Judy, have visited all seven continents. Congratulations to Ed Kaiser on this honor and thanks for your impact as a volunteer!
We are pleased to announce Garrett Wright as the December Volunteer of the Month. Garrett is from Columbia and graduated from the University of Missouri. He began volunteering with the Special Olympics in 2017. Over the past few years, he’s coached golf, basketball, and tennis.
Garrett started volunteering with the Special Olympics with his best friend Tyler in 2017. They have been friends since they were two-years-old and do most things together. They have even recruited more
of their friends to volunteer for the Special Olympics! Garrett talked about a memory when he coached two basketball teams with Tyler. One of their teams won state, and it was a blast coaching the athletes.
This past year, Garrett volunteered during the golf and tennis season. He competed in the Unified Partners category with Duke Simmons, and they placed 2nd in the area tournament. Garrett is excited to start coaching bowling, and mentioned that Duke has been proving himself to be a “phenomenal bowler and has scores that are better than mine.”
Garrett enjoys volunteering with the Special Olympics because he can volunteer and build relationships in the community. He likes that the Special Olympics isn’t a one-time volunteer event. Garrett encourages any one to volunteer with the Special Olympics.
Travis Swearengin is honored as the City of Columbia’s November Volunteer of the Month for his work with the Douglass baseball program, a non-competitive league for kids 5-10 years old. Travis serves the program in several roles: board member, coach and baseball camp leader.
Travis started volunteering with Douglass baseball four or five years ago after connecting with Camren Cross, Community Recreation Supervisor. With over 15 years of baseball coaching experience, Travis was interested in using his skills with Columbia Parks & Recreation.
Ca-Sandra Gunn, the staff coordinator for Douglass baseball shared, “Travis is a huge asset to Douglas baseball. He is always willing to lead clinics and is always trying to go the extra mile to help the players learn the basic skills of baseball. He has so much patience and is always willing to help!”
“Athletics and baseball especially have always been an escape from whatever life stress is currently troubling me. My participation at Douglass still does some of that for me, but more so, it’s the idea that I may be helping to provide a much-needed break for a child,” Travis said.
Travis, originally from Houston, Missouri, also keeps busy with his landscaping business, T & T Escapes. Thank you, Travis, for sharing time with the City of Columbia!
We are pleased to honor Ziya “Kelsey” Tang as the October Volunteer of the Month. Kelsey is an international student from Hangzhou, China majoring in journalism at the University of Missouri. Kelsey quickly got involved with volunteering after arriving in Columbia. Kelsey saw volunteering as a way to give back to those in the community who were helping her assimilate to a new culture.
Whether Kelsey is educating the public about waste reduction as a trained Recycling Ambassador, helping with a Parks and Recreation event, Household Hazardous Waste collection or a litter event she finds great value in her service. “I feel involved in Columbia because of volunteering. I think the best way to get involved in a community is to help others.” Kelsey feels when people are volunteering together “… we are united even when we haven’t know each other before.” The best part of volunteering for Kelsey is the good energy she receives from working with others to contribute to the community.
In China, most volunteers are high school and college aged volunteering earning credits for service. Kelsey has enjoyed volunteering here in Columbia where there is more community involvement and a diverse age range of volunteers.
Kelsey misses her beautiful home city of Hangzhou, but is grateful for all the volunteer opportunities that have made her feel a part Columbia.
Linus Johnson is the Volunteer of the Month for September. Linus was a very active participant in the City’s Youth in Action program over the summer, completing twenty-two hours of service in the span of just two months. He is 14 years old and will be starting 9th grade at Hickman High School this fall. Although this was his first time volunteering with Youth in Action, he is not new to serving his community. Linus has completed projects through his school to better Columbia.
Linus’s favorite project is invasive species removal, and he was very disappointed when this event was cancelled earlier in the summer. However, he got his chance to wrangle thick and dense honeysuckle when the event was rescheduled. Halfway through the project, though, a storm rolled in and heavy rain soaked Linus and his fellow volunteers. While he was sad to have his favorite event cut short, it is sure to be an invasive species removal that he won’t soon forget.
Werthen Gass, the 2020 Youth in Action Intern, said, “Linus was a regular volunteer with Youth in Action and always showed up ready to serve. Although he is a man of few words, Linus’s dedication to Columbia and strong work ethic spoke volumes”. Thank you, Linus, for being an outstanding volunteer.
Kelly Mason believes that everyone has the ability to contribute to their community, “they just need to find something they are passionate about.“ Kelly is passionate about the environment and sustainability, and has shared these passions as a volunteer Recycling Ambassador. For her efforts, Kelly is recognized as our August Volunteer of the Month.
Kelly committed to make others aware of waste reduction techniques. In her role as a Recycling Ambassador, Kelly carved out her own niche educating elementary students about recycling. She provides the students with a “Recycling Starter Kit” including a certificate qualifying them to teach others. Kelly’s favorite thing about being a Recycling Ambassador is hearing from the students about who THEY are going to teach about recycling.
In her role as a rental property manager, Kelly shared her knowledge of recycling with other members of the Columbia Apartment Association so recycling efforts could improve at rental properties throughout the City.
Kelly believes that since the reward for recycling (saving the earth) and the repercussions for not (damaging the environment) aren’t immediate, it is hard for people understand the importance of their actions. Kelly hopes that by teaching a younger generation the why, what and how of recycling they will have the confidence to pass that knowledge onto others.
To Kelly, the greatest thing about volunteering helping your community, while being the best version of yourself. “If we all strived for that version, imagine what we could do.”
Lea Langdon is the July Volunteer of the Month. Lea has a passion for the environment and believes that all citizens have a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. Lea began here service with the City of Columbia in 2015 as a Recycling Ambassador. Lea takes any opportunities that arise to promote waste reduction and proper recycling, but her real niche is with native landscapes education.
In 2017 Lea began passing her extensive knowledge of native landscapes to the public through the COMO Wild Yards Program. According to Community Conservationist, Danielle Fox, “Lea is an excellent gardening mentor because she gently teaches others about the natural systems that native plants create and how to best manage them in a garden setting.” It can be crushing to explain to someone that a beloved plant actually hurts the environment. Lea’s gentle nature breaks this news to people easily giving them time to process and understand how non-native plants cause damage to our native environments. Lea also serves through other organization such as the Wild Ones, MO Native Plant Society and CPS outdoor classrooms to educate the community about native landscaping.
Lea loves working with youth and has instilled a passion for gardening in many children whether that is through pulling weeds, planting natives, composting, or killing bush honeysuckle with them. The evidence of Lea’s passions and dedication can be found all around Columbia in many demonstration gardens, at public parks, school ground and residential homes.
Lisa E. A. Meyer is June’s Volunteer of the Month for Columbia. Her nominator Jody Cook describes her as a “litter pickup guru.” Not only has Lisa done an amazing job cleaning up roadways and neighborhoods, she has also been a volunteer supervisor for group litter events. Lisa, like any good “guru,” has developed a great rationale for her community service.
Lisa has called Columbia home for 15 years. As a Real Estate agent Lisa knows, homebuyers want clean neighborhoods and streets. This is how she explains spending her free time picking up litter: (volunteering and community service) is “a part of ownership, responsibility, and gratitude. I live in a great country and city – I want to do my part to help take care of it,” she says.
Lisa and her husband Jim often collect 25 bags of trash between them. In two years Lisa alone has picked up a whopping 157 bags of trash, and she still has time for volunteering with many other organizations in Columbia.
Thank you, Lisa, for your service and hard work. You’re an inspiration and a genuine guru for litter cleanup. “It’s not my trash but it’s my city!” she adds in conclusion.
On the many trails that wind through Columbia, Adopt-A-Trail is not your usual litter control or cleanup volunteer program, and John Mier is not your typical volunteer. He is a heavyweight champion in the battle to takedown the invasive, non-native, bush honeysuckle that has overgrown our forests and trails.
Initially Adopt-A-Trail volunteers participate in training to learn proper tree care, trail maintenance, and the identification of invasive species in Missouri, and how to remove them. They are then assigned a quarter-mile section of trail in the city to care for. Since 2017 John has logged over 91 hours of hard work and sweat, but he doesn’t mind because he says it’s a great way to relieve stress. He jokingly calls the honeysuckle removal “bushwhacking,” but the results are obvious. The trail opens up and looks much nicer, and clearing the honeysuckle allows for native plants to begin to grow back.
“It’s all about helping,” John says. He’s been volunteering in some capacity for decades. “You meet new people, learn new things, and in most roles, you know you are helping.” John also spends time volunteering at the St. Louis Zoo.
Thanks John for your energy, fortitude, and desire to help. If you also like helping and want to learn more about volunteering for the City’s Adopt-A-Trail program, please contact email@example.com new email or call 573-874-7499.
When Lydia Stephens attended the Missouri Leadership Seminar at the University of Central Missouri in 2019 she fell in love with helping others and making a positive change in her community. “I promised myself once I returned home I would get more involved, and joining Volunteer Columbia was the perfect opportunity.” When Lydia first saw Teens in Action on the Volunteer Columbia Instagram page she instantly knew it was something shewanted to be a part of. “I believe any student lead organization created to benefit their community is a perfect opportunity to develop your character and experience the real world.”
Lydia’s biggest challenge is finding time to volunteer. Between school and work Lydia’s schedule fills up quickly. Lydia is also involved with the National Honor Society and FCCLA; two organizations through her school. “Most of my volunteering consists of working with Teens in Action and The Food Bank, as well as other opportunities I find on the monthly Volunteer Columbia email.”
Lydia says, “To anyone thinking of getting involved with volunteer work, just do it. It can seem really daunting and awkward at first but taking that first step and showing up will do a world of a difference for not only others but for yourself.”
Thank you to Lydia for demonstrating the power of Teens in Action. If you know or have a teen that would like to volunteer contact Volunteer Programs at 573-874-7499 or firstname.lastname@example.org new email.