Klaryssa Bryan, or "Miss K", as she is known to students and staff at The School at Sweetser in Saco, has only been volunteering for a little more than a year, but has already made an enormous impact.
Klaryssa, a full-time student and mom to two young girls, volunteers at The School on average, 20 hours a week; during school vacations, she will volunteer up to 40 hours a week. Klaryssa’s time as a volunteer is spent helping wherever an extra pair of hands may be needed – in the office, the library, and often accompanying students on field trips.
Klaryssa has volunteered with other organizations and particularly is drawn to working with children. At Sweetser, students can earn "motivational
points" which they can redeem for small items; Klaryssa does the shopping and stocking of items, so she gets to interact with students when they
come to see what is available.
Klaryssa says, "No matter how small the impact may be for them, seeing the smiles on their faces is reward enough."
In addition to gaining work experience in her intended field of additional study, she has enjoyed getting to know her colleagues and supervisors, and gained valuable insight regarding a community mental health organization. She has always wanted to work in some capacity where she could help people and acknowledges that tragedies affect many people, including her, and helping now is a way of "paying it forward" for the help she and her family have received.
"Working here has opened my eyes to how much trauma there can be, but more importantly, how much help there is and how much difference one dedicated person can make," she says of the impact of her experiences at Sweetser.
Colleagues have nothing but praise for her, and use words to describe her such as "fearless, motivated, upbeat, dedicated, and always interested in learning," and nominated her for the Volunteer of the Year award, an honor that was bestowed during the annual volunteer celebration in May 2015.
Klaryssa is on track to attain her Associate’s Degree from York County Community College in May of 2016; after that, she plans to pursue a degree in social work at the University of Southern Maine. She says that during her time at Sweetser she has gained an understanding of The School at Sweetser, but also the larger organization and hopes to one day be a full-time employee.
Cassie Moon started making Sweetser Christmas Stockings in 2009. She had previously donated to Sweetser for many years - her son's toys and clothes, through a giving tree at her local credit union - and wanted to do something more. Cassie has always enjoyed volunteering and doing projects that help children - she also makes blankets for Project Linus.
Cassie had treasured memories of opening all the items in her stocking on Christmas morning, and wondered if there might be a way she could help make the holidays brighter for Sweetser children. Cassie reached out to Sweetser's development office to ask if the residential children needed anything, and learned that, most of all, they needed toiletries and small items - perfect for a Christmas stocking!
Cassie and her elves - mostly friends and family - start making the stockings and organizing materials on December 26 of each year. The stockings are handmade and filled with different items each year, but she always makes sure to include toiletries and sundries; additional items that were given this year included playing cards, silly putty, socks, candy, calculators and items to doodle with.
Cassie's mother-in-law helps organize all of the items they receive and keeps a running tally of what is needed so that every stocking includes the same items. Cassie's son also got involved last year - helping set up a Facebook page for "Sweetser Christmas Stockings." The social media aspect has helped the project grow tremendously.
Cassie has always enjoyed giving in ways that are meaningful and says, "No matter what you're going through, the simple act of giving back is good for your heart. Everything has value and the simplest things can sometimes make the biggest difference."
John Riordan is a relatively new volunteer, but he has already made quite an impact. Through the spring and summer he volunteered at Portland Cottage, a residential unit for adolescent boys on the Saco campus. John spent Friday afternoons playing sports like baseball, volleyball and badminton with the boys, and teaching them scrimshaw (knot tying).
John began volunteering with Sweetser as he transitioned into retirement and found himself with a greater amount of available time. A longtime Saco resident, he was aware of Sweetser’s services and the need for volunteers. His initial efforts to organize sports provided opportunities to explain to the boys what he does for a living as a civil engineer, and share his interest in mathematics. John loans books from his personal library, and found two boys are voracious readers and thoroughly enjoyed the Edgar Rice Borough’s Tarzan series. On one rainy Friday outdoor activity was impossible, so John printed off song lyrics, including "Sweet Caroline". Using a computer as a Karaoke machine, the boys had a great time belting out tunes.
John says, "I’m there to assist as I can and provide a difference in routine. My intent is to bring another perspective to their lives and offer an opportunity for them to observe a stable adult, imparting skills and guiding them in activities."
John has since transitioned to mentoring a young boy who was identified by Sweetser as desperately needing an adult male for guidance in his life. The interactions through the fall have included such things as tossing a football, kicking a soccer ball, taking hikes, and attending the Class A Football Championship game. John has now gotten his mentee involved in the basketball program through the local recreation department. "He is going to be a star player someday, and I am pleased to be his cheerleader," John says.
Barbara Waldroup has volunteered at Sweetser for nearly ten years, and in that time has provided an immeasurable amount of support to the Volunteer Program. Barbara says, "I just like the whole atmosphere of being involved with Sweetser. Everyone is nice, and welcoming, and the work being done is really satisfying."
Barbara moved to Maine from Burlington, Massachusetts in 2002, and fell in love with the Saco area. Being retired, though, she was looking for something to keep busy, and started her volunteer work with Sweetser through RSVP, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. Barbara started out in Sweetser's Volunteer Services program by setting up a database to keep track of the hundreds of volunteers and their hours. She continues to organize timesheets and supervisory report forms on a weekly basis. Barbara also helps organize the annual volunteer appreciation dinner, and designs all the invitations.
Linda Danielson, Director of the Volunteer Program says, "Barbara is full of energy and has been invaluable to me in helping run the program smoothly and efficiently."
In her professional career, Barbara worked for a technology company, and still enjoys working with computers. In her spare time, she tinkers with her computer at home, and tends to her seven flower gardens. She loves animals, and has a dog and cat, which travel with her when she returns to visit family in Massachusetts. Barbara is also very involved with her family, which includes two sons, a daughter, three grandsons and her great-grandchildren, including Rachel, who has even pitched in with her at Sweetser on occasion.
Twenty-year-old Krystal Malkoch credits Sweetser mentor volunteer Linda Blanton with changing her attitude toward school - ultimately leading to her becoming the first person in her family to graduate from high school.
“I’ve had a lot of bad stuff in my life,” Krystal said. “But when I hang out with Linda, we have lots of fun. She makes me happy. If I’m down, she does something that makes me happy. I look up to her a lot.”
Linda Blanton, a retired U.S. Army nurse, mother, and grandmother, has mentored six Sweetser children. She first read about Sweetser in the newspaper, called up, and agreed to mentor a boy who was one of seven children in a dysfunctional family.
“It’s kind of like you’re just a friend,” she explained. “He liked to go bowling, and to play catch and to walk on the four-wheeler trails. And that’s what we did.”
Currently Linda mentors two teenage girls. “As a mentor, you give a different view, a different outlook on life, not necessarily better, but different,” Linda said. “You expose them to different things that they may not have experienced before.”
She has taken the girls camping, boating, and to see a live play. She has also exposed them to volunteerism at a food bank, a clothing bank and a humane society. In fact, the girls volunteered for eight hours through a Sweetser program and qualified for Disney’s Give a Day, Get a Day volunteerism rewards program. They had vouchers for entrance into a Disney park - and Linda drove them to Florida on a 10-day trip!
As a mentor, Linda tends to get calls during family crises. She has even had children stay with her while a parent was hospitalized. “You become almost part of their family,” Linda said.
Despite the trials and stresses of mentoring, Linda says the rewards are greater. She feels the appreciation of the children in their smiles.
And the Sweetser staff show their appreciation through everything from coupons to take kids for pizza to volunteer service awards. “They really appreciate their volunteers, partly because their budgets are always being cut,” Linda said.
Linda lives on Bailey Island. She has a grown daughter, Keala, in Sanford, and a one-year-old grandson named Caleb.
Linda is pictured above with her daughter, Keala visiting New York City.
Ruth Bentley is indeed a special person. She spends her free time helping others, despite enduring three bouts of cancer over the years and beating all the odds. "I am not going to feel sorry for myself," says Ruth. "I don't think life can really be fulfilled unless you give of yourself."
Ruth is a very positive person and has a strong belief in faith. As a daughter of a Lutheran Preacher, Ruth grew up giving. She taught Sunday School in her father's church and eventually earned an MSW at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1968 she and her husband moved to Sanford. She worked for Head Start as a social worker and noticed that Sweetser was opening a residential home in Kennebunk for five adolescents and pre-adolescents. She volunteered to mentor the children, taking them to restaurants, apple picking and on field trips for birthday parties and holidays.
She also volunteered at Sweetser's Pre-School Program in Springvale every Friday for seven years. The program could not sustain itself due to funding issues, much to her dismay. Ruth feels strongly that helping children earlier is better. "It was natural for me to help these young children," says Ruth. "I just take kids and do things that I would normally do with my own children."
Ruth also serves on Sweetser's Volunteer Advisory Committee and is active with her church, serving on the Social Concerns Committee at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Kennebunk. She moved to Kennebunkport 12 years ago and can't seem to find enough time in the day to do all the things she would like to do. Her love for classical music led her to volunteer playing the organ at the Baptist Church in Saco. She has also been involved with United Way and was a spokesperson for Southern Maine Medical Center's Treatment Program.
Sweetser is grateful to Ruth for her commitment and dedication to helping those who are less fortunate. She not only gives her time, but financially supports many of the organizations she is involved with, including Sweetser. Her compassion and energy is an inspiration to all of us.
For more than 25 years, Kathy Meeker has played a significant role for Sweetser, serving as a volunteer, board member, supporter and advocate.
She was first introduced to Sweetser's mission in the 1970's by her good friend and former Sweetser board chairperson, Connie Kent. As a former teacher and having served 15 years on the board of Howard Mental Health Services in Vermont, Kathy was a perfect fit.
During her years on Sweetser's board, Kathy served as both chairperson and on several committees, including Facilities, Governance, Finance and Planning. Although she has recently "retired" as a board member, Kathy still volunteers on committees because of her special interest in improving the lives of children and families.
One of her greatest pleasures on the board was participating on the Building Committee, which helped oversee the construction of The School at Sweetser on the Saco campus in 1991. Her love for children and education made this an easy decision for her. Kathy became so involved, the board gave her a hard hat when the project was completed!
Kathy and her husband, Irving, went on to donate funds to build the Lincoln Library at the school, named after President Lincoln and for her committment to civil rights and educational freedom. This tribute honors both Irv's father, Lincoln, and a beloved family friend, Jenny Eva Sloan, whose parents were slaves.
Kathy's commitment to volunteerism reaches far beyond Sweetser. A few other organizations she has donated her time and wisdom to include the Maine Maritime Museum, Portland Stage Company, Falmouth Conservation Trust, the Falmouth School Board and Middlebury College, where Irv continues to serve as a trustee.
The Meekers have paved a clear path of giving and sharing as a legacy for their four children and nine grandchildren, who are also commited to volunteerism and charitable giving. She may not realize it, but Kathy is still teaching after all those years, and we all benefit from her lessons of kindess.
Philip Moskowitz, Staff Assistant, Brunswick
Sweetser volunteer Philip Moskowitz has been assisting Volunteer Services with monthly mailings since July of 2003. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Philip and his wife honeymooned in Maine in 1997. After Philip worked as a salesman for an advertising agency and for other companies in New York City, he and his wife spent six months of 2002 in Arkansas-and then decided that Maine is the place for them! In his spare time, Philip likes to paint. Thank you, Philip, for all of your help.
Marion Railton, Clerical Assistant, Saco
Marian Railton has been a clerical assistant for Sweetser's Volunteer Services since February of 2004, and received a Governor's Service Roll of Honor Award for giving more than 500 hours of services in 2004. "Of all the places I've lived, Maine is the best," says Marian, who was raised in Georgia. She lives with her 11-year-old son and likes to read, cross-stitch, and spend time with her family. Marian's willingness to help and gracious smile have endeared her to everyone at Sweetser. Thank you, Marian!
Kevin Bickford, Mentor, Saco
When Kevin Bickford shows up on Sweetser’s Saco campus, youths living in campus residences know they’re in for some fun. Kevin has been a volunteer mentor for teens at Sweetser since 2001, bringing his passion for helping young people stay out of trouble and succeed even in the face of difficult challenges. “It’s great to be able to collaborate with some of the outstanding staff at Sweetser,” says Kevin. “They fight to help kids get the guidance they need, and as a mentor I’m able to connect with teens on levels that work for them.”
The key to Kevin’s success as a mentor, he says, is listening—that and his keen ability to relate to kids on their level about music, friends and life as a teenager. Whether by getting into a rowdy game of basketball, going to lunch or the movies, reading poetry, going to church, or making CDs of the kids’ favorite music, Kevin is establishing a solid, healthy presence in the lives of youths who may not otherwise have someone who fills that role.
Mentoring at Sweetser is an extension of Kevin’s other work in the community. He works as prison ministry director for the Salvation Army in Portland, and spends a great deal of time teaching youths who are incarcerated or awaiting trial at Long Creek Youth Development Center. Having mentored more than 20 Sweetser youths over the past five years, Kevin has seen many make great strides—and several keep in touch with him.
“Having a mentor is awesome!” says Andrew, one of Kevin’s current mentees. “Kevin takes the time to take us out into the community—it’s fun. It makes me feel good to have someone around who cares a lot.”