Dolores Decker – called “Dee” by her friends – waited for everyone to be seated at the long tables in the dining area of Chris’ Corner before she sprang her surprise.
The April 20 gathering was supposed to be one in which Windmill Alliance honored those volunteers who helped keep the H.I.G.H.WA.Y.S. (Helping Individuals Gain Hope Will Always Yield Success) operating.
“Our H.I.G.H.WA.Y.S. program would not be sustainable without the countless number of volunteer hours dedicated to the services of those in need in our community,” said the Rev. Gregory G. Perez, president of Windmill Alliance.
Rev. Perez and others hoped to give the volunteers some recognition for their hard work, and certainly, the gesture was well received as several dozen volunteers chatted and laughed at the tables, while Dee plotted to turn things around and give back a little something to Rev. Perez.
Standing to one side of the tables clutching a large package wrapped in gold paper, Dee waited for her moment, then made her presentation.
“I always wanted to do this,” she said, handing the package which was the size of a medium-sized painting to Rev. Perez. “But I never had time. Last night, I made time.”
Inside, she had made a collage of about five photographs of Rev. Perez’s cocker spaniels, which she knew he cared a great deal for.
“It took me a while to get pictures of them both,” she said later. “But I got them.”
Rev. Perez looked surprised by this sudden reversal and puzzled at what the package might contain. He and his staff, after all, wanted to pay tribute to the 50 or so volunteers, and now one of them had come back at him.
“Open it!” some of the other volunteers yelled from the tables. “Let’s see what you got.”
Slowly, Rev. Perez took off the wrap, setting aside the large golden bow, and then he paused with a sudden intake of breath.
He started to speak, then stopped, and when he finally managed to speak, his voice was thick with emotion.
“This really means a lot to me,” he said. “As many of you know I have two cocker spaniels, and one of them is ill.”
He said he had the two dogs for about nine years.
“They’re my children,” he said.
A few minutes later, recovering from this moment of extreme emotion, Rev. Perez sat down to the luncheon, as staff honored the volunteers.
“We’re always looking for volunteers.” – Rev. Gregory G. Perez
The Windmill Alliance, which started in the mid-1980s to somehow find a way to fulfill the church’s mission to help the community, offers three basic programs: a day program, its H.I.G.H.W.A.Y.S. program, and a residential housing program.
H.I.G.H.W.A.Y.S., which operates a thrift store and counseling service, provides clothing, furnishings, counsel, and a food pantry for those in need. The thrift store – which has two components, a part which sells new or near-new items that were donated to the program and a discount used items store – also provides jobs and training for individuals.
Some volunteer to work there and some work through court-ordered community service, while some are staff members.
Rev. Perez said the program was founded by Sister Virginia Fitzgerald, and for many people in the community, her name comes to mind each time someone mentions the program.
“We’re always looking for volunteers,” he said.
The food pantry has become a key part of the service and because of the economy, the number of people seeking aid has gone up, which is part of the reason the program is seeking to work with other organizations in the community to provide services.
Some of the volunteers have been giving their services to the program for decades such as Sue DeVita, who has volunteered for the program for more than 25 years and Mary Jane Cardiello, 22 years. Kay Zigler has been volunteering for 20 years and Viola Lupo for ten.
Rev. Perez said that volunteers take on some of the more time consuming jobs at the thrift shop such as sorting through incoming donations, pricing the items and putting them out for display. In some cases, volunteers even handle the cash register and deal with customers.
Student volunteers from local elementary and high schools provide a number of other services such as painting, building shelves, doing repairs and even landscaping.
“Without you and the work that you do, we would not be able to operate,” Rev. Perez told the volunteers. “You are an integral part of what we do. In a big way, your personality sets the mood there.”