Every morning, Pete Stenberg wakes up, and his mind automatically focuses on one thing – veterans.
As the staff photographer and Northwest Indiana team coordinator for Honor flight, an organization that flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit war memorials for free, Stenberg stays busy.
He takes all the veterans’ photographs, goes on every flight to the nation’s capital, attends veterans’ events, networks and recruits.
Even when he is out and about running errands, he always carries applications and flyers with him, never wanting to miss an opportunity to interact with a veteran who may not be aware of the Honor Flight program.
“I’m always on 24/7,” Stenberg said. “Tomorrow I’ll do 18 hours alone. At times, it feels like a full-time job or more.”
But in reality, it’s not a full-time job. It’s not even a part-time job.
Stenberg is a volunteer, and like many volunteers know, the number of hours they dedicate to something they love isn’t reflected in a paycheck.
Organizations like Honor Flight heavily rely on volunteers for their existence. Without them, the needs of many wouldn’t be met, said Chris Wells, volunteer coordinator with Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.
“Volunteers are essential to our success and growth as an organization,” Wells said. “We couldn’t move over 5.1 million pounds of food per year without them.”
Although the food bank employs a paid full-time staff, there is simply too much work for just the employees. So far, the total volunteer time this year is approaching the 3,000-hour mark.
“Most of our faithful volunteers consider it a job, because it is definitely work, just one where the compensation is more rewarding than money,” Wells said. “It’s knowledge that they are improving their world.”
The same can be said for those who consider themselves “lifers” at nonprofits. Like volunteers, nonprofit employees often choose that career path for more than the monetary reward.
“I have walked away from the nonprofit world for short periods of time to pursue a more normal, corporate-type of job, and I have always come back to working in animal shelters, leaving behind benefits and taking a pay cut,” said Kristina Montgomery, a behavior consultant with Humane Society Calumet Area. “I simply cannot put a price on the fulfillment that I get from my job in a nonprofit.”
Montgomery is a dog behavior and training consultant, not only training the shelter dogs, but also rehabilitating abused or neglected dogs that are brought to the shelter.
“Few things are more rewarding to me than seeing a dog who, just a few weeks ago was afraid of human contact, happily going home with his or her new family,” she said. “When someone adopts a pet from a shelter, everybody wins and I love being a part of that connection.”
Last year at the humane society located in Munster, 400 volunteers completed a total of 22,018 volunteer hours. One of those volunteers was Roberta Spires.
While her volunteer work began as a community service project she helped her son with while he was in school, it’s turned into a lifelong passion for the Griffith resident.
Each day, Tuesday through Friday, Spires volunteers for either 5-1/2 or 7-1/2 hours, depending on when the shelter closes for the day. Her enjoyment for keeping the cats happy during their temporary home at the shelter and making sure their needs are met keeps her coming back each day.
“All we can do is try to give them a good life while they are there before they move onto a new home,” Spires said.
It’s volunteers like Spires who keep Jenny Bacino, volunteer coordinator with Humane Society Calumet Area, in nonprofit work.
“I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with so many volunteers who recognize the joy of giving back to their community,” she said. “It’s easy to be around those who share that point of view and recognize volunteerism as a true vehicle by which we can build, change, support or grow initiatives in our culture that are important to us. It is that powerful.”