By Kaye Bennett
Every Wednesday, more than a dozen Kalamazoo County adults with mental, emotional, or physical challenges come together for a few hours of fun, food and friendship. “Wednesday Winners” is supported by a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and meets at the Vicksburg United Methodist Church.
But, as Executive Director Danna Downing at South County Community Services (SCCS) says, it’s the volunteers who are the heart of the program. “We love our volunteers. They are the best.”
The volunteers’ efforts are coordinated by Virginia Shaw of Barton Lake. Shaw has worked with the program for more than 10 years. Many current participants have been coming to activities even longer than that, she says. According to SCCS, the program began more than 25 years ago.
Wednesday Winners activities, which run from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., begin with exercises and dance, then move on to bingo, crafts or games and often include off-site cultural activities and group outings. One of the favorite parts of the experience, according to participants, is lunch; volunteers plan, shop for, cook, and serve a healthy meal each week.
Those meals are the responsibility of Delma Pelikan and Carol LaFrance, who for the past six years have prepared a weekly meal for 30 people on a monthly budget of $200. It’s rewarding volunteer work, says Pelikan. “I like to make people happy and see the smiles on their faces. And they always come back for seconds.”
Other volunteer tasks include overseeing exercises and crafts, helping members with meals and activities, and even riding along on the van to help with transport. Sue Kennedy, Nancy Harper, Sharon Lints, Nancy Visel, Aurelia Reed and Meg Christenson round out the volunteer crew.
Many of the program’s participants live in area group homes, while others live independently or with relatives. Caregivers accompany some of them to Wednesday Winners, and they too get involved in activities.
Transportation is provided for those who need it by the Metro Community Services van and SCCS volunteer drivers.
Recent group outings have included movies, picnics, shopping and field trips to farms, the library, the Kalamazoo Nature Center, the Kalamazoo Planetarium, and the Fire Department. Upcoming activities will include handwashing techniques as the cold and flu seasons approach, interactive reading, bowling and packing backpacks for Generous Hands.
Shaw describes the program as 2 ½ hours a week of social enrichment. She’s proud of the bonds that have developed between volunteers and members. “We’re a family,” she says. “We truly believe in the importance of this program.”
Wednesday Winners participants themselves are equally enthusiastic. Not only do nearly all of them attend nearly every week, but annual survey results show 100 per cent approval of activities, the food, and total agreement with this statement: “Wednesday Winners day makes the week better.”
What do participants say? Marilyn, Bob and Jack live in a group home in Schoolcraft and have been coming to Wednesday Winners and its day-earlier predecessor, Tuesday Troopers, for many years. Each of them claims to enjoy the program’s crafts, and all love the food. One of Marilyn’s favorite field trips lately was a visit to the Oswalt Family farm, where she got to hold a lamb.
Bethany lives with her parents in Vicksburg and is accompanied to Wednesday Winners by her sister and caregiver, Sarah Hartmann. Hartmann says that, for Bethany, the best part is the socialization. Bethany, her sister says, is very social and it’s a good opportunity to get out and be active in the community.
Akia Harrison is a skill builder with Western Michigan University’s Center for Disability Services (CDS). She accompanies several CDS clients who come to Wednesday Winners each week to enhance their cognitive and motor skills, and Harrison says that the Vicksburg experience helps them meet the goals that have been set for their development.
“There are some people in our community who are really isolated,” says Downing, “and Wednesday Winners is a unique program that can help meet their needs.”
Wednesday Winners is welcoming new participants, Downing says. For information about the program, phone South County Community Services at 649-2901, or visit its website, http://www.southcountycs.us.