Neighborhood and Parks Activist

Energetic, warm, outspoken Adrienne came into volunteerism through a political campaign in 1996, but it was through a notice in the paper about the Guide Meridian-Cordata Neighborhood that she found herself truly engaged. She joined her neighborhood association and found her niche. Bellingham’s growth on the north end of the city didn’t include a plan for parks. And with all of the discussion about parks focused on the south side, the Guide Meridian-Cordata neighbors felt a need to get organized and make certain their needs weren’t overlooked. “It took many of us going to the city council meetings and expressing our disappointment with our lack of a park.” Persistence paid off. “We got our way eventually, but it took a lot of time. We started off in 2010 with a park trail and it was celebrated with a wonderful trail working its way through the parkland. We are still waiting for the amenities that will eventually be built and people will then be able to use a finished Cordata Park.” With people like Adrienne working hard, that Cordata Park will be in place sooner rather than later.
Adrienne’s volunteerism has included being a board member of the Cordata Neighborhood Association, a member of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Association Commission, a Parks and Recreation advisory board member, a liaison to the Woodstock Farm Conservancy and a liaison to the Big Rock Garden Park, which is also featured on p. 25. Mayor Kelli Linville said about her, “She’s a woman of amazing energy and commitment! She cares deeply about our community and works to make things happen. A dear friend.”
Adrienne’s life in Bellingham began with a phone call. In 1995, her stepson called from Vancouver, B.C. to announce that he and his wife were going to have a baby. Adrienne decided to move here to be closer to the family. That baby is now 18, and Adrienne is still happy here in her adopted home. “That is why Bellingham is my home. I am grateful for that call, because although I was born in New York City, lived in Los Angeles and Houston, Bellingham has allowed me to be a part of a welcoming city and have the ability to work as a volunteer.” We are all lucky that Adrienne works so passionately on behalf of her community. Persistent, vocal volunteers like Adrienne make the kind of lasting changes in our communities that are so deeply needed.

2013 Boys and Girls Club Volunteer of the Year.

David moved to Bellingham after living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He had been working in healthcare, but when layoffs began picking off fellow employees, he saw an opportunity. He had visited Bellingham a few times, and decided to come here to make a new life. “I was having trouble finding work, and DSHS helped me. One of the things they recommended was to volunteer.” They assigned David a head-hunter, who found him a volunteer position that encompassed his two interests: working with kids, and working with computers. “Sure enough,” he said, “They found a place for me at the Boys and Girls Club.”

DSHS also provided David with extensive job and life training evaluation, far beyond the usual skills assessment. The evaluation gave David a good sense of his work style, not just his abilities and interests. This was helpful information for him going into his volunteer position. “Things I never would have known without that testing.”

David went to work for Ed Wahlgren, Technology Director of the Bellingham Boys and Girls Club. Wahlgren said, “David can always be depended on when extra help is needed in Technology center. He understands the mission of the Boys & Girls Club and never hesitates to jump in and help a Club member when he sees one needing assistance. He also has a good understanding of both the technological and human interaction sides of volunteering in a program like ours. Thanks to David we can more easily work with kids 1-on-1, which makes our Club better for everyone.” David has now been with the BCGC for five years. He works in the computer tech lab, helping kids who have trouble with computer skills. He not only teaches specific programs like Publisher, but also helps with programs designed to educate kids as well. With Publisher, kids create banners and cards. With the education software, kids have math problems embedded in the programs, called adaptive learning tools, and build on computer and math skills at the same time. David’s quiet, gentle manner seems perfectly suited for walking students through the intricacies of computer programs. “I worked in software that was developed for kids k-12, so teaching them to use software was a big aspect of developing it.” David still feels that working with kids was a skill he had to learn. “Ed, my boss, is a great mentor. He has a great deal of patience with me and the kids.”

David was selected at Bellingham’s Boys and Girls Club Volunteer of the Year. “I wish I had been a part of The Club growing up,” he said. Bellingham is lucky that he finally found his way there.

Environmental Champion

With unflagging commitment, Bob Aegerter has worked on environmental issues his entire adult life. He first came to Bellingham in 1967, entranced by the mountains and coastline. He retired here in 2003, and has been an essential part of the environmental community ever since.

In 1979, Bob helped start a group that became the Mount Rainier National Park Associates. During that time, he gained the skills and contacts that shaped his early years as an advocate for the environment, and lobbied for the Washington State National Parks Wilderness Bill of 1988 that was signed by Governor Dan Evans. The WSNPW brought additional wilderness protection to the Olympic National Park, the North Cascades and Mount Rainier. Bob also helped with the Washington Wilderness and Parks Conference, and chaired it in 2008.

Bob joined Whatcom Conservation Voters in 2008 and has been a board member ever since. Through his work with Sierra Club, Bob received training in activism and citizen engagement. To this day, Bob travels to Olympia to speak to elected officials about issues closest to his heart: climate change, wilderness protection, wolf recovery and management, the proposed coal facility, the new 8000-acre park above Lake Whatcom among many others. Bob’s success locally and in Olympia lies in his ability to speak with a deep sense of history about environmental issues and his personable nature. Most of us came to climate change in 2006 With Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Bob has been concerned about climate change since 1972.

But of all the legislative work and environmental achievements Bob has enjoyed, he says his favorite part of volunteering is in the friendships he has with others. “The real story is the relationships with the people along the way. Hue Beattie (who I knew from Huxley years), Seth Fleetwood (who grew up with our son) who introduced me to Carl Weimer. Dan and Lisa McShane, Alex Ramel, Isabel Vanderslice. Wendy Harris. Steve Schuck and Natalie McClendon from Whatcom Dems. The list goes on and on! Mitch Friedman and Rud Browne from the reconveyence project.” The list is even longer than that, and still only a snapshot of the people who call out Bob’s name at receptions and events all up and down the I-5 corridor. Senator Kevin Ranker said of Bob, “Bob is a thoughtful and thought-provoking champion for our environment. His passion and tireless dedication to protect our natural resources should serve as a lesson to us all.”

What’s next for Bob? He says, “An issue that has been ignored for too long is responsible water planning—conservation, water quality, water quantity, in-stream flow (non-consumptive use.)” We can all look forward to hearing more from Bob about our precious natural resources.

Feeding Hungry Minds and Empty Stomachs

Bob and Dova Thirsk of Mount Vernon met when they were students at Western Washington University. Their roots in the area are deep, as Dova grew up in Bellingham, and Bob spent summers here visiting his grandparents. They raised five children in Whatcom and Skagit counties, and Bob taught biology at Bellingham High School. They’ve both spent much of their adulthood volunteering in one form or another. Bob was on the original zoning committee for the county, and Dova was involved with the kids’ programs and activities like Girl Scouts and PTA. On volunteering, Dova said, “We wanted to set a good example for our kids.” Bob added, “We loved Bellingham, and we wanted to do everything we could to make it a better community. When you’re working for your kids, you’re working for everyone’s kids.” Though the volunteer hours meant evenings away from the family for meetings for Bob, he doesn’t regret a moment of it.

Today, Dova is active with the Skagit Valley Neighbors in Need Food Bank. She began volunteering at the Food Bank eight years ago, and joined the board five years ago. “I like doing anything that brings the community’s attention to people, especially kids, who need food.” Dova’s commitment to hunger has also led her to work in school outreach. “We provide snacks two days a week for kids we’ve identified as needing them. We also provide weekly food baskets for families.”

Bob and Dova both work in children’s literacy programs in the local schools, reading to first graders at Madison Elementary and helping with the afterschool program at Children of the Valley housed at Bethany Covenant Church. “We provide an afterschool snack, fun time, homework time, reading time, special programs and enrichment for kids from three to six every school day.” Skagit schools have a large Hispanic population, and those students have specific needs that have to be met. “We think it’s really wise to invest time and energy in these gifted students,” Bob said.

Their work doesn’t stop there. Bob and Dova also work at the Community Kitchen in Sedro-Woolley. The Community Kitchen is open the last week of the month, when paychecks get thin. “People come together for conversation,” Bob said, “And for good food.” The Community Kitchen is housed in the Sedro-Woolley Methodist Church. Bob and Dova have been volunteering there for the past 7 years.

Bob and Dova both said that working with kids was their favorite part of volunteering. Their faces light up when they talk about the kids they work with, and how much they enjoy helping them. Their commitment to feeding the hungry is also deeply felt, and rooted in great compassion for the less fortunate.

"Active retirement is more than just keeping busy or following hobbies. Organizations rely on volunteers and cherish the lifelong skills these men and women have obtained over the decades, and the emotional maturity they bring to the organizations they serve. We are pleased to showcase these bright, smart leaders."