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Volunteers lend a helping hand

Shawn Feldner and Chuck Mehring place foliage in trash bags while doing fall cleanup at the Stella Graff residence in West Fargo.

Chuck Mehring has been helping out as a volunteer with the United Way of Cass-Clay's Day of Caring for the past five years, a commitment he totally enjoys and looks forward to annually as his personal way of 'giving back.'

What makes his involvement just a tad different is that Mehring lives in Grand Forks, and makes a special effort when the event rolls around to be in town so he can be a part of the activity, participating alongside his co-workers at Advanced Business Methods, Inc., West Fargo, where he serves as service manager for both the West Fargo and Grand Forks stores.

"I do it because I feel it is a worthwhile cause," Mehring said with a huge smile. "I am down here a couple of days a week so I always try to work this into my schedule because I believe in this effort. I wish we had something like this in Grand Forks."

Four other Advanced Business Methods employees - team leader Sheila Randall, Jay Yestebo, Paul Schaffer and Shawn Feldner - joined Mehring at Stella Graff's longtime home on Morrison Street Oct. 8, to help out with a variety of chores including washing windows, yard work, cleaning gutters, vacuuming, dusting and other inside cleaning, as well as picking the full bounty of fruit off her prize Haralson apple tree.

United Way Day of Caring is set aside annually as a way of impacting the lives of senior citizens by providing them with companionship and volunteers to help with duties they may not be able to complete in their home and yard, relying on business employees, college students, and individuals to participate.

A total of 16 ABM workers took part in this year's Day of Caring, with three other groups volunteering at three other locations. Overall, the event saw over 1,300 volunteers representing teams from 83 businesses and organizations scattered throughout the metro communities assisting 450 senior citizens in West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead, as well as seniors living in Kindred, Horace, Dilworth and Leonard in Cass County.

This year marked the fifth return for Randall to the Graff home, where Stella has been graciously welcoming the volunteer efforts for at least the last six years. "I just like Stella and we just keep going back," Randall said. "Stella always asks me "Sheila are you coming back next year, and I say 'yes.'"

Randall said she wouldn't have it any other way. "Just the getting together and everybody pitching in and seeing the smiles on Stella's face makes it all worth it. The excitement it generates, and to see everybody coming to her house - it's just fun to watch her face light up. And if we can do that, that's just awesome."

The feeling is definitely mutual. Stella is more than happy to welcome these special friends every year, depending upon them for her fall cleaning chores she is no longer able to complete herself.

"I just love it. I look forward to it," she said. "I don't have any kids around here anymore. My two girls are in the Cities and my son is in Red Lake Falls, so I need some help. The kids come a little bit in the spring. And when it gets cleaned up in the fall, it helps a lot."

Stella said she tries to stay out of the way, for the most part, and lets the volunteers do their own thing. She did try to lend a small hand however, by moving extra clutter so things would be easier to dust around, and by keeping a pot of hot coffee and doughnut balls in the kitchen ready for volunteers needing a break.

Each year Stella's 'work wish list' contains pretty much the same thing. "My flowerbeds need to be cleaned up. I'm very, very thankful for all their help. It's a real blessing to me. They have always been so good and so enthused. They are all really good people."

Stella has lived on Morrison Street for 62 years, coming to the community as the 'bride' of Irving Graff, longtime owner-operator of Western Auto Parts store located in downtown Fargo. Their first home was down the street a little ways from the present Graff home built in 1957. Irving passed away in 1993.

This year, the ABM volunteers also got in on the apple picking with the extra reward being able to take a sack full home if they so chose to. "Some years I only get a few apples, but this year was a good one," Stella said with a proud smile. "There were lots of apples. The squirrels like the ones on the ground. It's funny to look out my window and see a squirrel try to climb up a tree with an apple in his mouth. Sometimes it falls out and they try again."

Since the United Way Day of Caring event began in 1991, more than 14,500 volunteers have reached out to help 3,700 seniors.

Stella Graff is pleased and proud to be one of them.