Nancy Bronson—Animal Advocate

Bronson adopted a dog in 2009 from the Longmont Humane Society and at that time found out about the volunteer program.  She started working with the Dog TLC program, which socializes the dogs there. Says Bronson, “You fall in love with them and can’t have them,” so she kept coming back to work her "friends."

Over time, she became a regular who helped out at special events—including the Farm to Table Event and May Walk 5K.  Then she staffed LHS’s outreach program to Petco and Petsmart.  
When a health issue forced her to take a break from the TLC program, Bronson started doing foster home visits.  She says, “It’s my favorite thing to do.”  She covers the entire Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, and explains that there is no better pet foster program than at the Longmont Humane Society.  

She is a true advocate for animals—and their future owners.  She is passionate about dogs, “and it’s my way to help.”  She credits her work with the Federal Aviation Administration with giving her the skills to be a good representative for LHS, being on-time, friendly, and also communicating what the Humane Society is looking for in foster homes and what the expectations are.  

She finds it rewarding to know that animals will be cared for.  As much as she loves “her” dogs, she is always gratified to return to LHS and see that the animals have been adopted.  She credits the organization with high standards, hard work, and public education on behalf of the animals.  She also says of the area, “It’s fabulous at taking care of animals.”  Animals from many states with kill shelters end up here.  Bronson is an advocate to make sure they find a good home.

Dick Jonsen
“Whenever You Visit Someone in Jail . . . “
The first 72 hours are critical.  Many times, inmates leaving jail have nothing—no home, no job, nothing but the clothes on their back. Whether or not released inmates have support and resources in those first three days makes a huge difference in whether they fall back into crime and/or addictions or whether they start to build a new life.  

Dick Jonsen, chief volunteer recruiter for the FOCUS Reentry program, explains the way the program works.  Mentors are matched with inmates of the Boulder County Jail several months before their release and commit to support them and direct them to resources for one year.  Jonsen points out that life in the jail is completely structured; life outside jail may have no structure at all; mentors give support and stability through this huge transition.

Jonsen says that his post-retirement “career” has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at Front Range Community College and Intercambio, which he did for ten years..  But he wanted to do more.  He asked about teaching ESL at the jail, and soon was teaching a class once a week there.  After volunteering there under the JET (Jail Education and Transition) program for six years, he asked about working with released inmates.  

That’s when Jonsen was put in touch with the FOCUS Reentry program, a non-profit that partners with the County.  He signed up and became a mentor in 2014.  When his mentee left the program and his sight began to fail, making driving difficult, Jonsen was promoted to recruit volunteers, a huge need for the program.  They have 25 active mentors but an even greater demand.

He has been effective in reaching out to faith communities and recruiting students at Naropa University. Faith is a key motivator for Jonsen in his volunteering, a Roman Catholic Christian.  He says, “Jesus said, ‘Whenever you visit someone in jail, you visit me.’” He has served many our society would consider “the least”—immigrants, inmates, undocumented workers, and now, the released population, which may be the most underserved of all.  Their stories give him hope; in fact, he has former inmates speak to groups, because their words have the most power of all to motivate others to volunteer.

Even when you experience “failure,” as with his own mentee who left the program, he says, “who knows what affect you have or might have down the road?”  He relates the story of a woman in jail numerous times for meth-related charges.  She got connected to a mentor and tells people with no exaggeration, “That woman saved my life.”  And he has been changed as well by the relationships he has developed and people he has had the privilege of serving.

For his years-long volunteer work in teaching, mentoring, and volunteer recruitment with a broad array of community organizations, we honor Dick Jonsen for his volunteer work in the Boulder area.

Kay Thomas
At the intersection of people and problems

Several years ago, Kay Thomas answered an ad for Boulder County CareConnect (BCCC), which needed volunteers to do grocery shopping for elderly clients through their Carry-Out Caravan program.  It quickly became apparent that Thomas had more skills to offer than driving and shopping.  

An early computer programmer (think Fortran) turned registered nurse who later developed medical software, Thomas has outstanding computer skills (which many of her volunteering peers do not) and loads of people skills, including confidentiality, from her nursing work.  She was tapped to become the first volunteer Client Intake Specialist (CIS) at BCCC.   

Writes Carol Arnett Thompson, “a CIS is the first and last voice of the organization. A CIS is the person who speaks first to new clients and helps them determine which of our services best fits their needs. . . Kay is our senior and most excellent CIS volunteer. She has listened to, empathized with, and even cried with some of our clients over the years. They have come to rely on her voice to be the voice of problem solving that they can rely on.”  Clients come to BCCC to get services they can’t find elsewhere—volunteers who shop, drive them to medical appointments (Medical Mobility), do outdoor work (IceBusters and YardBusters) and indoor work (FixIt Program) for seniors and people with disabilities.  

In addition to being a CIS, Thomas also volunteers at CareConnect events and has become the Volunteer Intake Specialist for the organization.  What fuels her the most, though, is talking with the clients.  “They’re so appreciative of what we offer.”  When people lose dexterity or strength, little tasks—like changing a light bulb—may become impossible to do and negatively impact their quality of life.  Thomas recalls talking to a woman (“not mechanically minded”) whose shelf fell down.  “I was able to fix it over the phone,” she said, “by asking questions and guiding her to restore it.”  Her motto:  “I like to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Thomas has a long history of volunteering connected to her other interests—sewing quilts, caring for road medians, giving travel shows at retirement communities.  Her latest addition:  training as a victim advocate through the District Attorney’s office.   “There is so much need in the area—we can do so much with our time—even with a little time.”  Thompson raves about Thomas’ passion and  compassion: “Kay. . . is not just a volunteer, she is our touch stone, she is our history, and she is a rock star.”

Thank you to an outstanding community volunteer, Kay Thomas!

Gary Sobol
Making Connections—Exercises to Reverse Illness
Volunteering is fundamentally about making connections—connecting to organizations, to people, to the community.  In retirement, Gary Sobol didn’t plan on volunteering, starting a foundation, connecting to all of the above and making connections between the brain and the body through exercise, but that’s what he’s done.  And done extraordinarily well.

In 2008, Sobol was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and started losing basic functions in his body. So he did his own research.  He talked with a neuroscientist and tried to address one lost function—hand dexterity—with targeted exercise.  After 6-8 weeks or training, he could write checks again.  Then, he wondered, could he hike again?  After other targeted exercises, that ability returned.  

When he mentioned his experiences with members of the Boulder Parkinson’s support group, a few people who were members of the YMCA spoke to him about giving a class. The YMCA of Boulder Valley gave them room and whatever they needed.  His exercise class for people with Parkinson’s began. After a Denver Post article on his class was published, 45 people showed up. Then the class started spreading to other cities.

Now, under the GZ Sobol’s Parkinson’s Network, his 501(c)(3) foundation, he has trained 160 instructors who give his classes to 1100 people a week in 32 cities and 11 states.  And his work is being applied—with dramatic results--to people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.  In fact, he says, it seems to improve the functioning of people with all kinds of diseases.  After a woman taking his classes thanked him for his exercises, he asked her how long she had had Parkinson’s. She said, “I don’t have Parkinson’s, I had a traumatic brain injury.  This is the first thing that has helped.”

The exercises work to reestablish communication between the diseased or injured brain and other parts of the body.  Sobol has been amazed to see the network of communication and connection spring up around him in his new-found work, which builds hope and community among sufferers, family members, and health practitioners.

He speaks highly of the YMCA of the Boulder Valley—“If it hadn’t been for the YMCA, this wouldn’t have happened.”  He is also working with the YMCA and the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, on a research project around his exercises, and with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  He himself still teaches numerous classes every week in Y’s, rec centers, and skilled-nursing facilities.  And he never charges for trainings or for teaching classes.  He doesn’t want there to be any barriers for people to have access to better health.

Now 76, he is still going strong.  He is passionate in his desire to help others.  He recounts a story of a woman in her 60’s, severely disabled and confined to a wheelchair. After four years of exercises, she could walk backwards across the room.  “It makes you say, Wow!”  He attributes his new “career” to luck, but clearly his curiosity, desire to feel better, willingness to experiment, business experience, and willingness to share his journey with others have fueled his success.  

Gary Sobol exemplifies greatness in volunteering.  Says Jackson Frieling of the YMCA, “Each day he inspires us.”  He inspires many to volunteer to teach his classes and spread the reach of his work.  Foothills United Way and the Volunteer Connection salutes and thanks Sobol for his spirit and drive, which are connecting others to hope, each other, and the wider community.

Diane Przygocki:
Changing Behaviors to Improve Dogs’ Lives

It was a failure that got her started.  After successfully adopting 2 cats and 1 dog from the Longmont Humane Society, Diane Przygocki adopted a second dog, but this relationship didn’t work out.  It was then that she thought, “I need to learn more about dogs.”  

So she began volunteering at the Humane Society around Thanksgiving of 2012 and has since clocked over 1000 hours.  She became a Canine Coach, working with dogs in the Training and Behavior Department to overcome bad habits and socialization issues that could keep them from being adopted. She is gratified to see the progress the dogs make week by week—even the most troubled ones, dogs that have never been socialized with humans or other dogs, improve. No matter what, the dogs are always happy to see her and she them.

She also works on human behaviors.  At LHS, new volunteers are always coming through the doors.  Przygocki teaches a monthly class to up to 120 new volunteers every year on how to walk and interact with dogs.  She says, “I love teaching the classes.”  After instruction and hands-on experiences, “I get to see the light bulb go off in them—it changes the way they interact with dogs.”     

Patience, she says, is her greatest asset.  “If you react, the dog will react.  You need to be calm.” She has learned an amazing amount about dog behavior without realizing it, because for her, it’s just fun.  She is full of enthusiasm for her work and jokes that her (adult) children complain that she talks more about “her” dogs than her children.  
Przygocki raves about the Longmont Humane Society and its top-notch Training and Behavior department, which works up protocols for each dog according to its needs.  She also applies this in her work with volunteers, helping those who find dog-walking not quite a good fit to find other ways to volunteer and support the organization.  She has found that volunteering has given her a new view of the wider community—from the people who stop by on a whim and want to adopt a pet (bad idea!) to those who contribute, volunteer, and support animal welfare across sectors.  

Because of that initial failed relationship, Przygocki has not only learned how to communicate effectively with dogs, her volunteering has touched hundreds of human and canine lives.  And she has shown great restraint: she has only adopted 1 additional dog into her family in that time!