Goodwill volunteer steps down after 20 years
Shirley Nielsen couldn't beat the disability in her son, Mickey, so she joined the agency that was trying to help him.
That was over 20 years ago. Last month - many years since Mickey moved on from his work-study program there - Nielsen retired from her once-a-week volunteer work at the Westside-based Goodwill Industries of Colorado Springs.
Her time as a volunteer is one of the longest spans anyone can recall at an entity which relies heavily on unpaid help.
For Nielsen, it was doing her part to strengthen the non-profit agency for the disabled and disadvantaged. “If they had to pay me, they wouldn't be able to provide the services they do,” she said.
She and her husband, Jack, have lived in their house in Skyway for 32 years. They raised five children in all. Mickey was the fourth. Nielsen recalls how when he was little there was concern whether he would ever talk. When he was hungry, he would take her to the refrigerator and put her hand on the food he wanted.
Eventually, the talking came around, but he was diagnosed as what's known as “highly functioning autistic.”
When Mickey was 15, the Nielsens enrolled him in a work-study program through Goodwill in which he would attend school for a half a day at Palmer High School and work half a day at Goodwill. The idea was to start preparing him for life by training him for work he would be most realistically suited for, according to Nielsen.
“They took him and got me to help,” she said.
Her first volunteer efforts involved teaching sewing to the “clients” (the Goodwill term for its workers/trainees). “I even had a blind girl,” Nielsen said. “I'd put a block of wood on either side of the needle so she could find it. They had a lot of fun.”
Eventually, she moved on to the volunteer office, where she came to specialize in tracking the records of court-ordered workers who helped out at Goodwill. Coming in Mondays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., she kept a file on each one and organized end-of-month reports that included the total number of volunteers and the resultant savings.
In the meantime, she and her husband worked together in an accounting business.
Even though she's in her 70s now, Nielsen did not leave her volunteer post because of her age. She's developed a sight problem in her left eye that affected her ability to do the work. But for those who've gotten used to her being at Goodwill, you haven't seen the last of her. She plans to continue helping with serving at the agency's annual Thanksgiving and Christmas parties.
Westside Pioneer Article