2017 Hammer Community Partners say volunteering is about family
By Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers
Every other Saturday, Chris Klug of Minnetonka drives to the group home to pick up his friend Bruce. Each time, the routine is exactly the same. The pair stop by the recycling center to pick up some old magazines and return to Chris’ house. There, Bruce goes through the magazines to find pictures he likes, cutting them out and putting them in a special binder all his own. For lunch, Bruce has the same request each day — a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — after which the two watch television until it’s time for Chris to drive Bruce home.
Despite offers to go out to dinner or try other activities, Bruce is happy with things just the way they are.
Chris’ wife, Peggy, said the routine has been this way for the past six years — every other Saturday, rain or shine, is “Bruce Day.”
In recognition of their work, Hammer Residences, a Wayzata-based nonprofit that serves people, like Bruce, with disabilities, has named the Klugs as awardees for the 2017 Community Partner honor, recognizing dedication and contribution to Hammer and the people it serves. The honor is given to six community partners this year.
The Klugs began volunteering more than a decade ago through Reach for Resources, based in Minnetonka. Chris worked as a sports coach for people with disabilities and contacted Hammer about other opportunities in the community.
“I wanted to do something more one-on-one,” he said.
Chris currently works in human resources, but his background and education are in social work, a field he always wanted to return to.
“I feel like I sold out,” he jokes. “But I still have that in me. So I knew I had to give back, volunteer, do something.”
Six years ago, Chris was introduced to Bruce. They’ve been spending time together ever since. Now just shy of 50 years old, Bruce is a Hammer resident with a great sense of humor, but whose nearest family member lives in Texas.
In addition to their weekend time together, the Klugs also spend holidays with Bruce, inviting him for Thanksgiving and helping him wrap gifts (a favorite activity) for Christmas. Last, Peggy said the family joined Bruce at Hammer’s Thanksgiving celebration for group home residents.
“It was really fun for us to be able to go and share that with him,” she said.
Over the years, the Klugs have racked up nearly 900 hours of service.
Chris doesn’t think of it as work, however.
“Bruce and I just call each other friends,” he said. “You go into it thinking you’re volunteering and you’re giving something to someone else, but you get a lot out of it too. It’s good for both of us.”
Chris said many misunderstandings and misconceptions exist about people with disabilities, but all it takes is a little patience and kindness to make a positive connection.
“These are some of the most engaging, genuine people I’ve ever met. There’s no pretense. They’re just totally themselves, and it’s very refreshing to be around that,” he said.
The Klugs’ son, Chan, also lives with disability, which is just one more reason Chris and Peggy say their volunteering with Hammer isn’t work, but more of a lifestyle.
“One of the things that got me doing this is that my son is going to need to be in a group home someday. We’ve met so many wonderful people through Chan,” Chris said. “I got to thinking, a lot of the folks in group homes have families, but not all of them do. We get to be that for people like Bruce.”
Chris said it’s a great feeling to be the person Bruce looks forward to seeing at each visit. Over the years, the Klugs have formed a close bond with Bruce that’s visible to everyone around.
“Chris and Peggy consider Bruce a part of their family. They never missed a scheduled activity,” said Hammer program manager Theo Nah.
The Klugs were reluctant to talk about their own accolades, however, preferring instead to include themselves among the hundreds of volunteers that provide direct volunteer services to Hammer and its clients every year.
Barbara Brandt, director of communication for Hammer, said there is still a constant need for volunteers of all kinds, with more than 30 positions to waiting to be filled in the west metro.
Chris said his goal in sharing their story is to encourage other people to step up and help out, making new friends, or even family, in the process.
“Hammer makes it easy. You’re really just giving people an opportunity to get out and enjoy themselves, giving them something to look forward to,” Chris said.
Peggy added that while it might be intimidating to reach out and volunteer, a good first step is to reach out and see what opportunities are available. Working in a group, rather than one-on-one, can be a great starting place, she added.
“It can be tough to pick up the phone, if you’re not sure what to expect, Peggy said. “If this is something you feel called to do, reach out and talk to someone. There are so many options and opportunities out there. Once you give it a try, you’ll find it can make a big difference.”
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]