National Volunteer Week spotlight: Elanore Forbes, Cindy Gehlsen and Michelle McConnel make a tradition out of spreading joy
National Volunteer Week is April 17-23, when people across the country come together to serve others and improve their communities. Feel the joy of helping others by signing up to volunteer for The Salvation Army.
Christmas may be in the rearview mirror, but it would be a shame not to shine a spotlight on bell ringers Michelle McConnel, Elanore Forbes and Cindy Gehlsen during National Volunteer Week. Their dedication to bell ringing deserves recognition, no matter what time of year.
Elanore Forbes and Cindy Gehlsen
Elanore and Cindy are sisters who have been ringing the bell together every Christmas season in the Twin Cities for more than a quarter century.
They usually ring at the Cub grocery store in New Brighton. Over the years, they have developed many fun traditions, such as:
- Vikings vs. Packers theme: The sisters often ring their bells while Cindy is dressed in Vikings garb and Elanore in Packers attire (pictured). “People just love it,” Elanore said. “Some people say, ‘My donation is for the Packer fan’ or ‘This is for the Vikings fan.’” The tradition started many years ago on a very cold day, when the warmest winterwear Cindy owned was a purple snowsuit, and Elanore, a thick Packers coat.
- Dance party: The sisters bring a boombox and blare Christmas music at their kettle, singing and dancing to encourage donations. “People love to come up and sing and dance with us – one time we even made it on the radio live,” Elanore said. “Every so often we will get a ‘Bless you both,’ a hug, and other compliments.”
The compliments are deserved. The sisters’ volunteer efforts have raised thousands of dollars for Salvation Army programs that provide food, shelter and care for local families most in need.
Elanore and Cindy plan to ring bells for many more years to come.
“Every year, Cindy will ask me if I want to ring the bell, and my answer is always yes,” Elanore said. “I love to volunteer because I love the feeling in my heart and seeing the smiles on peoples’ faces.”
Michelle McConnel and her team at Prandium Group Real Estate in Prior Lake are forces for good, coming together to ring the bell for multiple shifts throughout the Christmas season.
“We go all out,” said Michelle (pictured), an operations executive for the company. “We’re decked out with … Santa hats and reindeer antlers, singing carols. It’s so much fun.”
The group first started ringing several years ago. Now, it’s a full-fledged tradition.
“Ringing the bell during the Christmas season for The Salvation Army is one of the many volunteer opportunities that brings our team together to spread cheer and raise money for those in need,” Michelle said.
In addition to ringing, the team regularly volunteers and raises money for other causes throughout the year, including breast cancer awareness and more.
Prandium founder Craig Kanis “is an inspirational leader and passionate about giving back and serving others,” Michelle said. “I love working with this amazing group of people that genuinely care about people and serving. My favorite thing about volunteering is the way it fills my heart with gratitude and the connection to something bigger.”