“Every act of kindness you do pays off and you should always pay it forward. That’s what we are here for, to take care of each other.” This is how Jean Kaiser describes why she’s been a dedicated volunteer throughout her life. Nominated by Person-to-Person, we are thrilled to recognize Jean in our Volunteer Spotlight.
Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Jean started volunteering as soon as she was old enough to do so. The first volunteer project she remembers was selling donuts on the median of the highway to raise money for children in need. Her parents taught her at a very young age to give back to her community and it certainly stuck. Raising her children in Westport, CT, she started an afterschool program and encouraged all the kids that attended to volunteer by the time they were in the 6th grade. They would stock shelves at the food pantries, volunteer at Senior Centers, and host food drives. Her volunteering rubbed off on her children as well. She and her daughter volunteered for the Mercy Learning Center and her daughter was also participated in the AIDS quilt program. Jean and her daughter love the Mercy Learning Center and the wonderful things they do for women and education. Her daughter even went back and worked as a teacher there after college.
Passionate about the work that non-profit organizations do for their clients, Jean has given her time to many organizations including Domus and Food Rescue US (formerly Community Plates). After moving to Norwalk several years ago, she was looking for an organization in her new town to volunteer with. She saw the opportunity to volunteer at Person-to-Person and signed up immediately. With over 3 years and 1,130 hours of volunteer time, Jean loves being a volunteer for Person-to-Person. She spends most of her time at the Norwalk location volunteering as a receptionist, welcoming and checking in clients, though she does fill in at the Darien location if she’s needed. As the first person that clients see when they enter Person-to-Person Norwalk, Jean always has a smile on her face. She credits the P2P staff for setting a great example of how to treat their clients, they are always welcoming, warm, and open. “It’s a very community driven place, it brings a smile to your face instantly. The staff and volunteers at P2P are always trying to find a way to help people,” Jean shared.
The feeling is certainly mutual, Christian Mendoza, Site Manager at Person-to-Person in Norwalk, couldn’t say enough about the impact Jean has made over the last 3 years. “Jean is clearly committed to our mission to help move families towards stability. She not only pitches in her time on a weekly basis, but has also organized drives and has generously donated items in need, such as backpacks, food, and books. Among all our amazing volunteers, Jean truly stands out as an exceptional member of our team.”
When I asked Jean if she encouraged people in her life to get involved with their communities she told me that most of her good friends have always been involved as volunteers. When she does encourage people to start volunteering she tells them to look for an opportunity that is a fit for them. It’s important to recognize that everyone is different and that they need to find the right opportunity that works for their interest and schedule. She encourages people to keep looking and not to just try one thing and move on if you don’t like it. She also wanted me to know that others inspire her too and she gave a shout out to Ernie Dumas. She called him a “local rock star,” for all he’s done in the Norwalk community. He holds holiday parties at South Norwalk Community Center, his wife offers people rides to the doctor, and they host many events for residents of Norwalk in need.
We are very inspired by Jean’s lifelong dedication to volunteering and we know others will be too. As we ended our conversation, Jean shared her motto, “If each person just takes care of one more person, we are all making a difference. I just don’t want people to give up on each other.” On behalf of Volunteer Square and Person-to-Person, we want to thank Jean for her positive outlook, outstanding service, and for inspiring others to follow their passion and give back to their community.