Meet our Volunteer Coordinators
Story by Summer Sorg
Photos by Summer Sorg
April is National Volunteer Month. Ability360 welcomes new volunteers for both the peer mentor program and the Sports & Fitness Center.
“The volunteer peer mentor program has been going on for over 20 years,” said Polly Queen, volunteer services coordinator at Ability360. “I’m glad to be a part of it and hope to watch it grow even more.”
Queen coordinates various events at Ability360 and staffs them with volunteers as needed. But her primary responsibility is working with the peer mentors and their mentees.
“I can’t say enough about our peer mentors,” Queen said. “I wake up every day and I’m excited to go to work. I get to serve. I get to work with individuals who are also willing to serve.”
Queen discovered the impact of peer mentoring in her own life when she found community with a group of people who shared her learning disability.
“So there you realize the power of peer mentoring and what groups can do,” Queen said.
In addition to the peer mentor program, there are volunteer opportunities with the Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center.
Katie Ritter, the center’s volunteer manager and certified therapeutic recreational specialist (CTRS), coordinates two volunteer programs: a general program that takes on regular weekly shifts, and another program that works with special events such as the annual Rugby Rave.
Ritter is amazed by how many people give their time to volunteer when nothing requires them to do so.
“It just blows my mind,” Ritter said. “These people are giving their time. In college I never went out of my way to do unrequired service hours. It’s just kind of cool that people who don’t need those hours still give their time.”
Ritter also created a junior volunteer program for 16 to 18-year-olds.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to gain professional skills in a setting where they can be successful,” she said.
Ritter trains volunteers to recognize the independence of members.
“The biggest thing is just watching people watch other people,” she said. “I think people hear the word disability and they think that we are a rehabilitation something. And we kind of are, but we’re not a hospital setting. We’re community-based.
I teach volunteers that people are just coming to work out— that’s all. They’re just doing it differently. I teach the volunteers to just help with basic assistance while not destroying that person’s autonomy or independence.”
Queen said the importance of peer mentoring is to allow someone the opportunity to stay within their communities and be independent. Independence “means you have the right to make choices about where you want to live and what you want to eat and what color you want to wear for that day.”
When it comes to her vision for the volunteer program in the years to come, Queen said that it’s already started.
“My future for the program is taking what those before me have put into effect and continuing to get the message out there and recruit more mentees so that this program can continue being successful.”
Ritter has similar goals for the growth of the Sports & Fitness Center’s volunteer program.
“This may be my optimism, but I want it to be huge. I want to have volunteers in here all the time, every day of the week, every hour of the week,” Ritter said.
PEER MENTOR PROGRAM
SPORTS & FITNESS CENTER
Summer Sorg is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication specializing in photography and digital journalism. Her heart lies in storytelling, nature and exploring. Summer plans to use her talents to highlight important issues and inspire people to care.