Hutchinson is a city that thrives on volunteers. All you have to do is look around and see their efforts. The green thumbs of the Hutchinson Garden Club have turned the intersection of Dale Street and Roberts Road into a blooming oasis. The Elks have put their money where their hearts are and raised funds for the first inclusive playground in the community. Historic Hutchinson in partnership with the city has preserved community assets such as the Harrington-Merrill House, the Episcopal Church and the Great Northern Depot. The list goes on and on.

The Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, foundations and corporate giving programs, announced in July the value of volunteer time is $27.20 per hour. This translates to $187.7 billion to the United States through volunteers' time, talents and effort. That's a lot of moolah.

While volunteering is often an individual pursuit, it doesn't have to be. It can be a family affair, which is what it became for the family of Eric and Cassie Padrnos of Hutchinson.

“Volunteering and helping out has always been a passion of mine,” Cassie said. “I find great joy in helping others.”

It's this mindset that infused the Padrnos family — including children Monica, Gina and Zac — to step up and become longtime volunteers at Prince of Peace Retirement Living in Hutchinson. The family's connection to the senior living facility was through Cassie's grandparents, who had moved from the family farm to town in 2008.

“Prince of Peace was looking for volunteers to help serve the noon dinner on weekends,” she said. “We thought this was a great opportunity to help out, have dinner with my grandparents, and most importantly teach our own children the importance of helping where help is needed.”

“The Padrnos family has been very involved with Prince of Peace Retirement Living for over 5 years,” said Destini Doring, services and fundraising coordinator at Prince of Peace. “They have brought many smiles and warmth to many of our residents. Cassie was a huge asset in the expansion of our intergenerational program, which connects seniors with the youth. ... Cassie and her family are very special to all of us here. In addition, Cassie goes the extra mile by encouraging her students to volunteer with her family, which has benefited our team of volunteers exponentially."

Doring said youth volunteers have helped serve meals on weekends and holidays. They participated in the Red Cross program Holidays for Heroes, partnering with residents to make cards for soldiers, relatives and veterans. They also worked together to make Hutchinson Tigers windsocks for Homecoming. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, they assisted residents with groceries and other necessities, and their artwork brightened residents' days.

"Their time not only fills people's hearts, but assists the staff here with making the best retirement living option possible," Doring said. "We are blessed to have the best volunteers willing to give the time to make real differences in the lives of our residents."

EXTENDING THE HAND OF FRIENDSHIP

The bond the Padrnos family forged with residents at Prince of Peace continued after Cassie's grandparents moved to another facility in 2013. 

"There were times when our children would argue who was going with mom to volunteer," she said. "I enjoyed dressing the kids up and having them visit with the residents, who were always so kind to them. I also recruited my friends with young children to also sign up and volunteer. As our children were getting older, they didn’t always want to go with me. So, that is when I opened up the opportunity to my students at Park Elementary."

Cassie said her outreach effort started small with a simple email to students' parents asking if they would help serve dinner at Prince of Peace. 

"I had an overwhelming response, and that led to volunteering a little more so that all my students could get a taste of volunteering," she said. "I wasn’t able to get all my students signed up during the school year, so we continued it through the summer months, too. This has been going on for years and I’ve never had a problem getting students signed up to volunteer. Some students even shared that their experience at Prince of Peace was their favorite part of the whole school year."

The students helped set tables, lead the residents in the common table prayer, serve the meal, and then they join the residents, eating and visiting with them. Afterward, the students helped clean up. 

It was during 2015-16, Doring and Cassie worked together to launch the senior living facility's intergenerational program. 

"We provided opportunities for my students and the residents to get together to visit, create something and/or enjoy a snack together," Cassie said. "Over the years, this has expanded to encourage other teachers at Park Elementary to bring their class to Prince of Peace, too. So, each month of the school year a different teacher brings their class to Prince of Peace. The activities vary, but include reading to the residents, playing bingo and making Hutch Tiger Homecoming windsocks."

"Along with (students from Park Elementary), we have local day cares, ECFE groups and preschools come in for other activities in order for the residents to have time with toddlers," Doring said. "These groups usually partake in activities that involve singing and coloring."

To create an opportunity to have a relationship with teenagers, Prince of Peace provides information to their residents about Maplewood Academy's Assist Program, where student volunteers work with senior mentors to learn life skills.

"From folding clothes to addressing letters and everything in between, our residents do what they can to assist these students in order to prepare them for life on their own and to learn from their elders," Doring said. "Our intergenerational program really helps fill the void of missing a grandparent or a grandchild for all of those involved. The appreciation of each other's time goes both ways with those who participate."

SHARING TIME AND TALENTS

While Prince of Peace is near and dear to the Padrnos family's hearts, it's not their only volunteer effort.

Cassie's husband, Eric, volunteers twice a month at their church, Peace Lutheran, where he does the audio during the early service. He runs the switchboard and helps wherever he's needed. He's also a familiar face at the church's annual fish fry.

Daughter Monica, 14, helps at church, too, by tying baptismal blankets, occasionally running the Power Point presentation for the early church service, reading the scripture and helping with vacation Bible school. She's also in her second year as a junior volunteer at Hutchinson Health.

Like their sister, Gina, 12, and Zac, 11, have followed in her footsteps volunteering at church. Gina was scheduled to join Hutchinson Health's Junior Volunteer program until the pandemic hit. For now, that's on hold.

"I love to bake, so I also volunteer to bake and donate many treats to Peace Lutheran Church events," Cassie said. "I also run the Monthly Munchie bake sale at Peace Lutheran Church September through May with another church member. All proceeds go to Tell the Next Generation, (which is used for church restoration projects such as the bell tower, parking lot repair and to replace the carpet in the church basement). We've been doing this for almost 10 years."

The Padrnos family also can be found ringing the Salvation Army bell for the organization's annual Red Kettle campaign at Christmas. They typically sign up as a family, and Cassie also signs up with her third-grade students.

"My favorite part of all of this volunteering is listening to my children and students tell others why they should do it, and how fun it is," she said. "The excitement multiplies, and pretty soon we have so many willing people to help others. With so much darkness in the world, I can tell you that you will live a happier life by giving back to others. Children can do amazing things when they have good role models leading the way."

One of Cassie's favorite quotes is from Mahatma Gandhi, 'The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

"Anyone can volunteer, and the need is there," she said. "You just need to go find your place."

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