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Best community volunteers chosen by Valley Record readers
The question of why never comes up in conversations with the Valley’s top volunteers. The reasons they work so hard, on Relay for Life, on Fall City Days, on the Festival at Mount Si and on preserving local organizations and activities, is simple, obvious even: It’s what you do when you live in a community.
“I answer most questions ‘why not?’ not ‘why,’ when people ask me to do something,” says Nels Melgaard, who readers of the Valley Record chose as one of the best community volunteers in this year’s Best of the Valley survey. “I’m just available, I do what I can.”
Bev Jorgensen, a North Bend resident and chairperson for this year’s Relay for Life event, says, “I want to be a volunteer, that’s my passion. I want to help. If I could afford to just be a volunteer and not do anything else, then I would devote my life to that.”
“I (was) the child that comes with the volunteer,” said Angela Donaldson of Fall City, who grew up doing community work with her parents, Kevin and Laurie Hauglie. “It’s part of our family spirit, we are always volunteering.”
Melgaard, Jorgensen and Donaldson were the runaway choices for best community volunteer this year. Jorgensen received the most votes, closely followed by Melgaard and Donaldson in a tie. While each of them is well-known for a particular event — Relay for Jorgensen, the Sallal Grange for Melgaard, and the kiddie parades of Fall City Days and the Festival at Mount Si for Donaldson — their community connections are both broad and deep.
Jorgensen, a widowed mother of five grown children and a PartyLite consultant, regularly raises funds or other donations for organizations like the local food bank, or families who need help with medical bills, etc. Her work with Relay is very important, she says, because of all the good it does — the 18-hour American Cancer Society walkathon raises funds for all types of cancer research and has funded key prevention initiatives such as anti-tobacco campaign and mammogram awareness — and because of the good it allows her to do.
“Since I’m wearing this Relay face a lot more lately,” she says, she’s frequently approached by people she doesn’t know, asking her to pray for their recently diagnosed family members. “Everybody in this community, whether I know their name or not, everybody has been affected by cancer,” she said. “I feel I’ve been able to provide a little bit of an outlet for people, a little bit of a go-to, and a little bit of a hope.”
Melgaard, forced to limit his active community work for the past two years while fighting colon cancer, strives to be there for people, too.
“I call it working with others, being involved,” he said. “It’s no mystery to a lot of people in the Valley that I’ve been clean and sober for the last 29 years… and I’m present in the lives of others who are struggling… sometimes coordinating assistance to them, sometimes counseling…”
He’s somewhat reluctant to be recognized as a community volunteer, because he’s been unable to do a lot during his illness. A husband, father of two, and business-owner, he is also co-founder of the youth Snoqualmie Valley Wrestling Club, and part of the group who re-chartered the Sallal Grange in 2009, but he’s had to limit his activity with those groups. He says he rarely works with at-risk youth any more, either. “I just be, and people show up,” he said.
Melgaard is still willing to do what he, and frequently his business, can do for the community. “If my name is synonymous with The Nursery at Mount Si, well the nursery doesn’t say no often to any organization that wants to do something,” he said.
No is not a word that comes easily for Donaldson, either, but she’s learned to use it over years of volunteering, and occasionally being overwhelmed by it.
“To be an effective volunteer, you have to choose your priorities well,” she said. For herself, that meant family first, her clients at Hauglie Insurance Agency next, and finally, her community.
So you’ll often find her helping with something that’s a combination of those priorities, like the kiddie parades that her children can participate in, or, on the far end of the fun spectrum, updating the King County comprehensive plan.
“I’ve got my roots here and I plan to stay here in the long run and also be a business owner and have my kids go to school here, so the comp plan affects all of us,” she explained. So, when the opportunity to give feedback on the county’s comp plan, directing development in unincorporated areas of the county like Fall City, came along, she took it. “I want to see Fall City be a great place to live for my kids.”
Her big-picture view also led Donaldson to the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, where she has been a past board member and secretary, and would happily serve on the board again, if asked.
“I’ve never grown so much,” she said of her time on the board. “It just really solidified everything we do in the Valley. The chamber is not just about business. It’s about protecting our valley from east to west.”
Asked what makes a good volunteer, the three agreed that they had to be motivated from the heart.
Jorgensen recalled her previous work with the Snoqualmie Valley School District, which allowed her to try many volunteer roles, she said. There, as always, she chose the work that would most directly affect people, specifically, the schoolchildren. “If I’m not helping somebody, then I don’t want to do it,” she said.
“Work on something you’re passionate about,” says Donaldson, both for your sake and that of your fellow volunteers. “That’s with anything in life. If you’re going to put your time and energy into it, put 100 percent in…. if you’re willing to play a part in something as important as volunteering, do it for something that’s important enough for you, because if you don’t, you’re going to burn out the other volunteers.”
Melgaard says just look around, and you’ll find a great volunteer. “I (voted for wrestling club co-founder) Joe Marenko on that survey,” he said. “I think of Larry (Houch) and Leah (Aichele). Larry is the Grange master. I think they’ve got 30 hours a week, honestly, plus every Tuesday, they set up the table and do the dairy drive at QFC … there’s Bev Jorgensen, Deanna Haverfield, Mary Miller, they’re just present, Jill Massengill… Chris Garcia… Rob McFall… the PTSAs are doing amazing work, and the Teen Closet, that’s an awesome program that we have in the Valley! I don’t know whose garage is stacked with all those clothes…”
Having been on the receiving end of a lot of volunteer help during his illness, Melgaard is humbled by his own community.
"It's easier to give than to receive, for me," he says, especially when it comes to recognition. "I don't do what we do to draw attention. I don't know anybody that does. … Oftentimes, I get more than I can say grace over."