Kids learn by example, for good or ill. Kristin Pollema learned the good stuff–about giving back as a thanksgiving for her blessings–by watching her parents volunteer at church, at school, and in the community. “Really, though, my wife and I feel like she’s taught us more about volunteering than we’ve taught her,” says her dad, Joel. “She just has a heart for giving.”
Joel and Connie brought up their three girls to think of others first, and the Angel Tree was always part of their holiday tradition. “Kristin was always hard to get gifts for,” says Joel. “She just wanted to give to others.”
The Pollemas weren’t a bit surprised when Kristin decided to start volunteering at Children’s Care Hospital & School nearly two years ago, and that for her 17th birthday, she wanted only money so she could buy toys for the kids she was volunteering with. “That gave her more joy than anything,” says Joel. “She and a friend went to Toys R’ Us and had a ball picking out toys for the kids.” “I couldn’t believe that a teenager could be so selfless,” says Children’s Care Case Manager Leslie Stusiak-Drew.
Kristin quickly bonded with the children she worked with at Children’s Care, says Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Donahue. She visits faithfully, and has become good friends with a particular teenage girl at Children’s Care. The two regularly engage in girl talk, fingernail painting, and computer surfing, plus Kristin sometimes helps with homework with her and other children. Her experience at Children’s Care has given her direction for her own career—after graduating from Brandon Valley High School next spring, she plans to attend USD and pursue a career in special education or some other field working with kids with special needs.
Kristin says she keeps coming back because of the way the kids make her feel. “It sounds corny, but it’s true,” she says. “As much as you give, they give back more. I always leave smiling.”