A Little Effort - A Big Impact

When Julie Wilhelmson took a break from her engineering career and became a math tutor at AmeriCorps, she learned that they keep track of volunteer hours. As she looked for a place to volunteer, Julie gave DARTS a call. They connected her with Olive, a 99-year-old St. Paul resident who needed someone to do her grocery shopping.

Olive has nine grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren. “I’m gonna be 100 in June,” she said with a chuckle, “so I can’t go too far without hanging on to somebody’s hand.”  Twice a month, Olive calls Julie with a grocery list. Julie delivers the groceries that Saturday, and then they visit together.
To Julie, time with Olive is a reminder to keep things in perspective. “I just think she’s an amazing person,” Julie said. “I don’t know anyone [else] who’s about to turn 100 years old. She always has a different perspective on things, and it reminds me just to relax, because if she can be 99 years old and so sweet and so calm…it just makes me relax about all these other things that people worry about.”

Julie insists that the time she invests with Olive is a perfect fit for her busy schedule. “It’s very convenient,” she said. “We live in Inver Grove [Heights], and she’s in South St. Paul…We’re going to the grocery store anyway, so it fits right in. And she’s close by. We like to help her.” Sometimes, Julie even brings her daughters, Molly and Jill, to help with the groceries and visit with Olive. Molly’s favorite part? “Getting to go see her and talking with her.” Molly has worked with DARTS in other ways, too. This past fall her Girl Scout troop did a raking project for a couple of elderly people’s homes. DARTS loves working with groups, since more hands mean bigger impact – and more seniors served.

For Olive, though, just a couple of hours make a big difference. “They’re real, real nice,” she said. “I couldn’t find a nicer person to bring stuff to me.”
According to Julie, one perk of the job has been a hand-knit scarf. “She always wants to give us a gift, and we’re like, ‘it’s okay! We’re supposed to do this. This is what we want to do.” Most of all, Julie just wants to make sure Olive is cared for. “She’s 99 years old,” Julie said. “Just the thought of her safety – especially in the winter, with icy streets and freezing cold – I’m really happy she doesn’t have to go outside.”

According to Julie, getting started with DARTS was not difficult. She called, and they found a need that catered to her ability. Her schedule has remained intact, and she has found that the effort isn’t much when compared with the reward.  “…It only takes a couple hours every other week,” Julie said, “and people really, really appreciate what you’re doing. It’s not as hard as it sounds.”

By Michael Finnern, DARTS Volunteer