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Does Your Volunteer Time Really Pay Off?

3 women say yes – thanks to a little help from pets, movies & kids

Photo of Pat Nielsen volunteering with cat the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

It's easy to feel like you never have a free moment. Between work and home and family, your days are full.

Yet many people make time to give back. In fact, more than 62 million Americans volunteered in 2015, according to the website

With a little help from Thrivent Financial and a program called Thrivent Action Teams, here's what living generously looks like for three women who are Thrivent Financial members.

Pet project becomes a passion

Pat Nielsen of Gretna, Louisiana, is a self-described cat person currently caring for 10 cats (though she's quick to point out that only four live inside – two in her home and two in the beauty salon she owns).

So when she saw a newspaper ad recruiting volunteers for the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), she didn't think twice. That was 27 years ago.

Nielsen's first SPCA job was cleaning puppy and kitten cages. She still makes the rounds to see if any cute cats are available, but after adopting three within her first month, she now spends her time publicizing fundraisers and tracking donations.

"My philosophy from the very beginning was that I cannot save every animal in the world," she says. "I do the best I can. The people I've worked with over the years have been so committed to what they do. It inspires me to keep going."  

And keep going Nielsen does, spending 10 to 14 hours a week at the SPCA.

"If you can educate somebody to take better care of their animals, they may also take better care of their people," she says.

Reel dreams of community

      Smith, memberEver since Kelly Smith and her husband, Ryan, got married 12 years ago, they wanted to share their love of old movies with others.

Two years ago, Kelly called an independent living home down the street from their Jefferson City, Missouri, home and asked if she and Ryan could bring in movies for the residents. Those movies, which often feature Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, now are shown one Saturday every month.

"I thought, a lot of people living in facilities like that are lonely," Kelly says. "We wanted to remind them of when they were younger. A lot of them will say, 'I saw this in the movie theater with my husband.' It's a warm, nostalgic memory."

The project was a good fit for Kelly and Ryan. They already had many movies at home and even spent part of their honeymoon at the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pennsylvania. They also wanted to teach their two sons about the value of service, and there weren't many places they could volunteer with young children.

"It's a special time because we're all together," Kelly says.

Teen power energizes adults

When Lisa Sharot's husband, Rob, told her that he felt called to take over the youth group at their church, she wasn't enthusiastic.

Their daughters were entering sixth grade, and she thought the project would be time-consuming and frustrating.

"I told him, 'Good luck with that,'" Lisa says.

But Lisa soon changed her tune. When the Sharots, of Fort Pierce, Florida, began working with the St. Andrew Lutheran Church youth group, it had only six members.

"It did not take me long to fall in love with those kids," Lisa says.

While meeting with them, the Sharots related Bible stories, such as the tale of David and Goliath, to issues faced by today's teenagers, including bullying or drug addiction.

They found ways to mix it up – a mission trip might end with a day of whitewater rafting.

The Sharots let the youth group become a part of their lives, even though they work full-time and Rob owns two businesses.

They took late-night phone calls from teenagers who needed to talk. One girl told them that her involvement with the youth group helped persuade her not to commit suicide.

"It increased our faith. It kept us young," Lisa says. "It's humbling to watch God move through us and through the rest of the group."

Join the team

Want to volunteer time but don't know where to begin? Consider creating a Thrivent Action Team. Through this program, you and your family and friends can help your community through a fundraiser or service activity.

Each team receives:

  • A promotional banner.
  • Invitations and thank-you cards.
  • Thrivent Action Team T-shirts.
  • A $250 Community Impact Card to purchase supplies and create promotional materials. To get started, go to  

Volunteer highlights

In 2015:

  • Thrivent members held 84,634 local activities to help their communities.
  • Members and supporters raised and donated $103.6 million. 51,774 members led Thrivent Action Teams.
  • 313,700 members designated Thrivent Choice Dollars® toward churches, schools, social ministries and other nonprofits.
  • Thrivent and its members directed $203.9 million in total outreach.
  • 816 Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity homes were funded, built or repaired, serving 2,067 individuals.   

Read this entire article from the March 2016 issue of Thrivent magazine.

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