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Brethren volunteers lend helping handsVolunteers enjoy HRDC and the Havre area


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Brethren volunteers lend helping hands

Volunteers enjoy HRDC and the Havre area

Several transplants to Montana are working at the District IV Human Resources Development Council, continuing a tradition started in 1999.

The four are members of the Brethren Volunteer Services, a volunteer organization that supplies workers to HRDC.

Al and Suzanne Chrysler of Estes Park, Colo., Jodi Fahnestock of Salisbury, N.C., and Elisa Wolf of Lititz, Pa., are the volunteers assigned to Havre this year.

Al, 63, and Suzanne, 61, said they had planned to join the volunteer service once they retired. Al had worked for the service before, serving in Rapid City, S.D., in 1958-59.

"I always wanted to do it again," he said. "We retired on Friday and left Monday to start training."

The two have been in Havre since May 10, following a training session the service holds for volunteers.

Jodi, 18, said her father, her uncles and her cousins served as Brethren volunteers. Her father was raised in the Church of the Brethren but there is no church of that faith near Salisbury, she said. She is a Methodist, like her mother.

Her family members' experience motivated her to join the Brethren volunteers. It has been a rewarding experience, she said.

"It just makes me feel good that I can donate time to help someone," she said.

Al was raised in the Church of the Brethren, which puts great emphasis on working to serve others and doing good works.

"That was instilled in me," he said.

Jodi has been working at the North Havre Community Food Bank, but her main position will be working at the Early Head Start, set to begin in Havre in December.

Suzanne splits her time between the food bank and HRDC's domestic abuse program. Al is a general handyman for HRDC.

"I do about everything," he said. "If somebody needs a picture hung or whatever, I do it."

Part of Al's time is spent picking up and sorting donations, including many donations of game since the deer and antelope hunting seasons opened.

Elisa has been working as a child mentor and recruiting child mentors, with her time about split between local schools and the HRDC offices.

Elisa and Jodi also provide child care during evenings while HRDC conducts classes for parents.

The Church of the Brethren, a "peace church" comparable to the Quakers and Mennonites, began in Germany in 1708, when five men and three women formed their own church in protest of religious persecution, calling themselves "brethren."

Facing continued persecution in Europe, members of the church began emigrating to North America in 1719, with the first congregation on the continent organized in Germantown, Pa. Most members of the church had moved to the British colonies on North America by 1740.

The Brethren Volunteer Service was proposed at the annual meeting of the church in 1948. College sophomore Ted Chambers proposed the volunteer organization, which was unanimously accepted by the conference.

The service requires that volunteers be 18 or older, have a high school education or its equivalent, be of good physical and mental health, and be willing to examine and study the Christian faith.

Kim Bickler of the Brethren Volunteer Service said volunteers don't have to proclaim themselves Christian the program has had volunteers from other faiths including Buddhism and Hinduism but must be willing to accept that it is a Christian program.

"They have to be willing to participate, but we're not going to try to convert them," she said.

Jodi said much the same. The emphasis is on Christian good fellowship, not on converting people's faiths.

"Everybody's supportive of each other and all are there for each other," she said. "There's a lot of support."

The program has been in operation since 1949, and has been imitated by other programs. President Kennedy used the service as one of his models in creating the Peace Corps in the 1960s.

The service this year has about 200 projects it is sending volunteers to. The volunteers focus on issues like child care, senior issues, ecological issues, homelessness, peacemaking and other community service.

The Church of the Brethren finances recruitment and initial training of the volunteers. The project site is responsible for room and board and a $60-a-month stipend.

Bickler said about 160 of the projects are in the United States. District IV HRDC is the only Brethren Volunteer Service project in Montana.

The link with HRDC comes through its director, Tom Bolan, who is leaving Havre to start working for a substance abuse and housing project in Reno, Nev., over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Bolan was a Brethren Volunteer Service project leader while he worked as director of a community service program in California. He had such a good relationship with the volunteer service that he requested a project at HRDC, Bickler said.

Bolan said having the Brethren project at HRDC has benefitted both the community service organization and the volunteer service, and he expects it to continue for some time.

"It's been awesome," he said.

The volunteers have helped with many programs at HRDC and have volunteered in other service organizations in the community, working at the soup kitchen, coaching sports and the like, he said. They have a strong work ethic and fit in well with the people and activities in the area, he said.

"They've been a real benefit to the community," Bolan said.

The HRDC project raised immediate interest with the volunteers, and received three volunteers in its first year, 1999. That's somewhat unusual, Bickler said, since many projects don't initially attract volunteers.

"A lot of it has to do with the Montana mystique," she said.

Jodi said that did have something to do with her choice. She heard Havre and the surrounding area was beautiful and peaceful. And she wanted to meet cowboys, she added.

The other reason was the opportunity to work in the Early Head Start program, Jodi said.

Working with children is one of her lifelong goals, she said. She hopes someday, after going to college, to open a home for children who are orphans, displaced or have other troubles.

The Chryslers said Havre was an easy choice.

"We wanted to work in the West and work in a small town," Suzanne said. "We felt the service opportunities at HRDC would fit our interests."

"After we got here we liked it even more," Al said. He and Suzanne have been spending a lot of time camping, hiking and fishing in the Bear Paw Mountains, which seem oddly underappreciated here, he said.

One thing about Havre that has impressed them tremendously is the generosity of its people, Suzanne said.

"It's gratifying to know so many people care about others in the community," she said.

"I think that's one of the first things we noticed," Al added.

The Chryslers said they plan to volunteer for at least one more year of work at a new project after they finish at HRDC in May.

Jodi said she may continue with the service, possibly staying in Havre, but she has to finish her year before she makes a decision. She started about three weeks ago.

She said she has made some friends at Montana State University-Northern and has been spending time with them. She also has enjoyed going to local football games.

Jodi was the first girl to play football on her high school's team in North Carolina, she said.

But she still hasn't met her cowboy. If she does, it may convince her to work in Havre another year, she said.

People who are interested in learning more about the volunteer service should contact the volunteers through HRDC.

On the Net: Brethren Volunteer Service http://www.brethren.org/genbd/bvs


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