Live United: Thanks to all those who are showing up with a purpose

Published 8:45 pm Friday, October 27, 2023

Live United by Erin Haag

My regular readers might remember that Nikolle enacted a promise from me that I wasn’t ever going to store mattresses in my office again. My current office is far too small, but it’s hard to turn down beds in good condition from homes I trust. An acquaintance of mine messaged me and told me she had ordered the wrong mattress size. It was too difficult to return, so she wondered if I knew of a good home for it. It’s still wrapped in the plastic! I figured I’d beg forgiveness later and told her to bring it to town, and I’d find somewhere to keep it out of the way until we found that home. Her office is very near ours, and a couple of volunteers ran over to grab it. I’d been out of the office that morning with other appointments and hadn’t connected with Nikolle yet to ask for that forgiveness. She was talking on the phone as I walked into her office. She was speaking with a client referred to us for the Community Needs program. He was starting over. I mouthed to her, “Do they need a bed?” She nodded her head at me, and I told her, “We have one!” I guess I don’t have to beg for forgiveness as much now. Nikolle just laughed at me but is excited we’re able to provide for someone doing the hard work of starting over.

Erin Haag

We’ve been working this week on organizing the first Winter Gear distribution today. We came across three cowboy hats as we sorted through and laid things out on the tables. Two were colorful, with flowers and rhinestones. That evening, Nikolle told a shopper about them. She had built enough of a relationship with him that she knew he might appreciate them. He had on his custom hat that he made with his trinkets that were meaningful to him. I had thought of him, but since he and I had chatted, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. When I heard Nikolle talking to him, I grabbed them to see if he’d like to take one home. His slow and easy smile broke out when he saw them in my hands. He examined them with care and decided on the red hat. He was debating, though, and I told him he was welcome to take both. He was surprised and more than appreciative. Nikolle and I love finding homes for things like that.

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New volunteers are joining us every day. People ask me, “Do you have enough?” While we might have enough on a particular day, we will always encourage people to sign up to volunteer.

Rosemary has even gotten the volunteer application online for those who would prefer to do it that way. You can check it out at We’re currently building the system to put all our opportunities online. On any given day, you can log on and see if we have enough volunteers for the pantry or another event. We’ll approach them for specific projects as we get to know people. Having a retired IT director go through suggestions regarding technology — that’s incredibly valuable to us. We learn who’s good at editing and who’s good at leading others. We learn who’s here for the winter and who will run away for the sunshine. We learn who will volunteer on rainy and cold days when it’s not good golfing weather and who’s got their own tools and handyman know-how. We operate on this sign-up list, though. We want to ensure we’re not overstepping. A volunteer application might mean you volunteer once a year or once a month — but it gives us the information to know you’re interested.

One area that I really struggle with for volunteerism is on our board of directors and/or committees. We have openings, and new terms will start in January. Currently, the board is assessing what’s needed and updating expectations and roles. Community members of all skill sets and experience can join. It’s an ever-evolving work in progress. It’s hard — it’s hard work because there’s so much happening and so many areas of equal importance vying for attention. People worry about the time commitment they experience. There’s often the thought that someone is better than them at the job.

Can you say what you mean and mean what you say? Can you show up? There’s room for flexibility, which I try to stress and communicate to everyone — it’s OK if you’re new. It’s OK.

Show up, be purposeful. Share your opinions and ask questions. Explore the different areas of volunteering with us in our different programs and see what resonates with you.

In 2019, our volunteer base had dwindled down to less than 20 people. Today, I’m proud to say that we have over 170 people registered with us for volunteering, and more are walking through our doors. This doesn’t include those adopting families for Jingle, take the time to go through their closets to drop off coats, or our yearly campaign donors allowing us to keep doing the work. When I think about it, I realize what a community we’ve built. I went from a tiny office in a quiet building to a place where people are ringing our doorbell on a regular basis, dropping off items, stopping by to say hello, picking up meals for Semcac’s Mobile Meal program, helping to unload a truck or just responding to my articles by bringing me artwork and quilts. We’d love to have you join us. Still not sure where you’d fit? Give us a call at 507-373-8670 or explore our website at For those who’d like to donate, our mailing address is PO Box 686, Albert Lea, MN 56007. Thank you to all those who are showing up with purpose, helping make our community a better place.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.