Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Bridget, 16, washes dishes after the free community meal

Iron Range kids have steely ambition

Added on Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Try, but you’ll have a hard time finding kids as giving as the ones in Virginia, Minn. About 20 of them volunteer at the Virginia Salvation Army almost every week. For some, it’s practically every day.

Brigette (pictured above), for example, washes dishes five days a week. She’s a teenager who’d rather clean the dirty dinner plates of people in need than spend her spare time watching TV. She’s a godsend to the Virginia Salvation Army, whose dinner program serves 80 to 120 people every weeknight.

“I’m pretty good at washing dishes – I can’t sit around at home and do nothing,” said a humble Brigette, 16, who also cooks and serves dinners when she’s not busy scrubbing pots.

Brigette isn’t the only goodhearted kid in Virginia. Click to reveal stories and photos of four more:

Jenna

Jenna, 15, serves a meal during The Salvation Army dinner program

Like Brigette, Jenna volunteers five days a week – a few hours after school and full-time during summer. She’s been helping The Salvation Army off and on for years. Then, last summer, she upped her game.

“One of the cooks retired and they were losing a lot of volunteers, so now I come in almost every day,” the 15-year-old said. “I stepped up.”

Not only does Jenna volunteer in the kitchen, she also sorts donations at the Virginia Salvation Army’s secondhand store.

“At the end of the day, I know I’m helping people. I’m making a difference,” she said.

Gabrielle

Gabrielle, 22, stands by the store front she painted for The Salvation Army thrift store

She’s a pre-med college student, an accomplished artist, manages a pizza parlor and works at a gas station, and Gabrielle still finds time to help the Virginia Salvation Army.

Not only does she volunteer in the kitchen and store, she uses her artistic talents to beautify them.

In the kitchen, people waiting in line for a meal marvel at Gabrielle’s astonishing painting of “The Last Supper” (pictured, bottom).

Painting created by 22-year-old Salvation Army volunteer Gabrielle
At the store, bargain hunters walk under a special sign she painted above the entrance (pictured, top). She painted it for free when she heard another local artist was asking $2,000 to do the job.

“If younger people actually realized how much fun volunteering is, they’d do it a lot more often,” the 22-year-old said.

Tristan

Tristan, 16, sorts donations to The Salvation Army thrift store

At age 16, Tristan knows he’s not a kid anymore. He volunteers at the store to gain the experience he’ll need to become a man.

“It’s opened my eyes on how to act for a paid job, to know what I’m supposed to do and how to follow orders,” he said.

Tristan started helping after school six months ago and is now spending the summer volunteering full-time. He’s taken his involvement with The Salvation Army to a new level after attending church at the Virginia Salvation Army since age 7.

“I like volunteering a lot – it’s hard work and lots of friendly people,” he said.

Vanessa

Vanessa, 16, places shoe donations on a shelf at The Salvation Army thrift store

Talk about devotion. Even during the school year, Vanessa, 16, manages to volunteer at the store 40 to 50 hours per week.

There’s no hooky involved. She takes online high school classes, which allows her to spend every weekday bouncing between her studies and volunteering.

She’s the store’s go-to girl for everything: sorting clothes, making signs, pricing items, cleaning and more. She’s been at it for one year and plans to continue the same schedule during her upcoming junior year.

“I like the fact that I’m helping someone who needs it,” Vanessa said. “I like being able to do something to help that not everyone can.”

There’s no catch

Nope, there’s nothing in the Iron Range water. The help that Virginia youth give The Salvation Army is the product of two simple things: good parenting and active recruiting.

Iron-Range-Kids-Vic-250x350All the kids above have at least one parent who works or regularly volunteers for The Salvation Army. These parents are committed to instilling in their children the value of giving, despite living in a community that’s far from affluent.

“The people here give as much as they can – they don’t have much money, so they give of themselves,” said Major LaVonne Fones (pictured below), co-leader of the Virginia Salvation Army. “The volunteers here come through big time.”

Other youth volunteers are recruited. In addition to young volunteers like Brigette enlisting their help – “Sometimes I get my friends to come help me in the kitchen,” she said – others discover volunteering by shopping at the store. Whenever store manager Vic Barbeau (pictured serving meal) – father of Brigette and Gabrielle – sees an able-bodied youngster browsing the aisles, he pipes up.

“I tell them to come on in and help out,” said Barbeau, who’s wrangled about 10 new young volunteers that way.

Headshot of Major LaVonne FonesIn addition to the dinner program and store, the Virginia Salvation Army provides food shelf services, clothing, utility assistance and much more to about 100 families per month, serving an area that includes hundreds of square miles and 57 zip codes.

The Virginia Salvation Army is able to provide these services, whether directly or indirectly, thanks to a caring group of Iron Range youngsters whose volunteer ambition is nothing short of sterling.

“These kids are way ahead of the game,” Fones said. “You couldn’t ask for better kids.”

Read more stories, blog posts and testimonials on our News page.