Volunteer Spirit Soars: How the People We Support Are Giving Back to Their Communities - Penn-Mar

Volunteer Spirit Soars: How the People We Support Are Giving Back to Their Communities

Posted on April 22, 2024

Throughout the United States, organizations like Penn-Mar will be observing National Volunteer Week, April 21 – 27, designed as “a week-long celebration that places a spotlight on inspiring figures whose invaluable seeds of kindness through volunteering are bettering the community and our world in general.”

And while we are incredibly fortunate to have many volunteers who contribute their time and energy to support Penn-Mar, you may be surprised to learn that many of the people with disabilities that we support are also going out into their communities to make a difference in the lives of both people and animals.

4 women standing next to a horse.

Pictured during a volunteer day at Heart Sing Horse Journeys are (l. to r.) Jenna Zarfoss, Niki Jones Owner of Heart Sing Horse Journeys, Patty Groft, and Karen Harman.

Three ladies from the Penn-Mar North Day Program have been waiting all winter to return to Heart Sings Horse Journey in Spring Grove, PA with their Support DSP Tammy Naylor.

Senior DSP Maria Engler discovered this unique farm experience while searching for local volunteer opportunities over two years ago. The site promotes the care of mind, body, and spirit by using interactions with horses to help participants develop a deeper awareness of themselves and their relationships.

The first few times they visited the farm with Maria to get a feel for the experience they offered a donation. But soon the owner, Niki Jones, said “never mind that,” and invited them to come and help with the horses for a true volunteer activity.

Karen Harman, Patty Groft, and Jenna Zarfoss were then assigned chores grooming the horses, filling up their water buckets, and stocking hay in the barns.

Jenna, who had ridden horses before, mastered putting on the harnesses and leading the horses into the stalls and out to the pastures.

Karen admits falling in love with the horses at first sight and enjoys interacting with other animals on the farm, “especially the kitty cats.”

Patty‘s favorite horse is named “Tonto,” and she enjoys making friends at the farm and spending time with other volunteers.

Niki says the visit from the Penn-Mar volunteers is “her favorite hour of the week,” and the feeling is mutual. “They are kind, polite, loving and we are blessed to have them be part of our amazing barn family. It’s heartwarming to be with them.”

In the Fall of 2021, Maria Swift, Sr. DSP South East, was looking for volunteer and skill building opportunities for her Day Program Group. She reached out to the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown, MD where she was immediately told, “come on down!”

When Sarah Maranto, Derek Long, and Lisa Hendrix were introduced to the site, they had a variety of impressions and reactions.

Sarah saw the potential for a place where she could work and socialize.

Derek admits to a lot of emotions and was a bit scared at first, but the guinea pigs eventually won him over.

Lisa didn’t have a moment’s hesitation and was anxious to get started helping. 

And Mattie Gosnell, who would join the group later, easily partnered up with Derek and Lisa to take care of the guinea pigs.

The group started volunteering two hours a day every Monday in the Cattery, cleaning out the cat cages. Later they moved on to the small animal room, cleaning and caring for the guinea pigs.

A year later Sarah started working at the dog kennels and others in the group helped make cheese and peanut butter filled enrichment toys for the dogs.

Derek still loves seeing and caring for the guinea pigs with the help of Mattie and Lisa who make sure they have clean bedding, food and drink, blankets, and towels. Derek says the beautiful animals make him feel “good and grateful.”

DSP Program Instructor Nadine Gaetani works with a group of volunteers from Penn-Mar Central. They started visiting the Northeastern Senior Center in Mt. Wolf, PA six months ago. Nadine said from the moment they all leave the Center they are talking about how they can’t wait to return and how happy they feel.

Melanie hugging Joann.

Melanie Fisher shares a hug with her dear friend Joann while volunteering at Northeastern Senior Center in Mt. Wolf, PA.

Melanie Fisher enjoys meeting new friends there and seems to know everyone’s name. “Pass the Pig” is one of her favorite games to play with the residents.

Becky Nelson loves the socializing aspects and seeing familiar faces during their three hour visits every other week.

Carl Fleck has a great sense of humor and enjoys introducing himself to everyone and helping to pick up the trash.

Amanda Otto remarked that the residents look forward to seeing her and always greet her with a smile.

Sierra Ledford is a very popular game partner, always quick to give a hug and close by her coach, Nadine, who she refers to as “her grandmother.”

One of the highlights of their visit is playing “Now You Got It, Now You Don’t,” a game where everyone passes around beautifully wrapped trinkets that all of the residents will eventually win. Nadine has “upped her wrapping game” after seeing the amazing parcels other visitors bring to each visit.

“Penn-Mar people have been such a joy” said Melissa Adams, Assistant Director of the Northeastern Senior Center. “Both our members’ as well as Penn-Mar’s faces light up when they are together. Interaction for all has been a blessing. Our residents sometimes get upset when they have some other obligation and can’t be here to see them.”

Nearly all of these individuals participate in other volunteer activities, supporting food banks, crisis centers, church gift shops and cafes, and non-profit resale stores. And these groups represent just a small sampling of the many people supported by Penn-Mar who choose to spend some of their time giving back to their communities through volunteerism. 

They are shining examples of “inspiring figures” who are “bettering the community and our world in general.”

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