by Katherine Hedland '88
She adjusts the knit hat on a 2-year-old girl and helps a little boy navigate
down a step as children clamor around her on the playground in downtown Tacoma.
When Karla Nelson decided to work for social justice as a member of the Lutheran
Volunteer Corps, she didnt know that could mean simply comforting
a toddler. But caring for these delicate children reading to them,
taking them outside to play, making sure they get a home-cooked meal
is important work, and Nelson looks at the opportunity as a blessing.
"I didnt want a normal job, and I liked the idea of sustainable living," said Nelson, a 2002 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. She is one of six members of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps based in Tacoma. She works at First Place for Childrens downtown day care center. Many of the children there have great needs. All are from low-income families. Some have been neglected or abused.
"For some of these kids, we are their stable place," said Becky (Hucko 79) Fontaine. "For others, we are the place they get fed."
LVC organizer Robert Hasselblad 72 and Becky (Hucko 79) Fontaine, executive director of First Place for Children, pose with dozens of stuffed animals donated for children served by First Place.
Fontaine is the executive director of First Place for Children, which provides
day care, parenting services and other resources to low-income children at
six sites in the Tacoma area, including PLUs East Campus. First Place
cares for 232 children every day, ranging in age from four weeks to five years.
Fontaine wanted to become involved with LVC because of the benefit to both
her agency and the community.
"The staff at the center downtown would say they dont know what
theyd do without Karla," Fontaine said. "She is really an
integral part of that center."
This is just one example of how Lutheran Volunteer Corps is reaching out
to the community. Many alumni work to make the program a success in Tacoma.
And so far, 16 PLU grads have joined LVC in other cities.
Volunteers commit to a year of
working for social justice, living in intentional community and simplified
living. In Tacoma, that means sharing a house with five people and living
on a meager stipend. Their rent is subsidized by the agencies they give their
time to. Volunteers do not have to be Lutheran.
"Its a great service to the community in an area thats fighting
to keep its head above water," said Lois Bekemeier 82, one of the
founding members of the local support committee that brought LVC to Seattle
and Tacoma in 1995 and 96. Bekemeiers husband, Luther, was vice
president for development from 1976 to 1992 and also serves on the local support
"This is the best-kept secret in the Lutheran community," said
Robert Hasselblad 72, who is on the local support committee and in the
fall succeeded Lois Bekemeier as the Tacoma representative to the national
steering committee. He and his wife, Kathleen 89, 94, help volunteers
get settled, show them around town and provide support during their year in
"We just fell in love with this program and these young people,"
he said. "It was a fit for both of us."
This years Tacoma volunteers (five women and one man from all over the country), have different community placements: First Place, Epworth LeSourd United Methodist Church, Habitat for Humanity, Sexual Assault Center, Nativity House drop-in homeless shelter and LArche Tahoma Hope Community, which works with people with disabilities.
Katie Gilliam 02, left, and Jill Muhm 01 are serving with Lutheran Volunteer Corps right now. Gilliam is in Wisconsin, and Muhm is in Washington D.C.
Former Campus Pastor Martin Wells was integral in bringing the
program to the Puget Sound area, and others with PLU connections help make
the program a success.
LVC also serves communities in Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, Wis., Minneapolis-St.
Paul, Washington, DC, and Wilmington, Del. The national organization, which
operates independently of any church body, hopes to expand into other cities
as more volunteers join. There is also
a program called LVC Plus available to older people who want to volunteer.
Volunteers from PLU include Katie Gilliam 02, who works as an administrative
paralegal at Legal Action of Wisconsin, and Jill Muhm 01, who is in
her second year of volunteering, now at N Street Village in Washington DC
"A lot of young people who come in for a year, end up going into the ministry, social service or education," Bekemeier said. "Its not just a one year thing, its a lifetime of service."
For more information, go to www.lvchome.org or call 202-387-3222. Members of the local committee are also happy to make presentations in the community.