Volunteers Spotlight

Dedicated SBCO Volunteer Finds Joy in Helping Others

by Nancy McCluskey-Moore

Bente Fongemie and her husband moved to SaddleBrooke in July 1996 from Fremont, CA in the San Francisco Bay Area. Within a year of her arrival, she was recruited by Harriett Schultz, one of the founders of SaddleBrooke Community Outreach (then known as SaddleBrooke Women’s Outreach), to help with the group’s program for clothing school children in Oracle.

Bente Fongemie, a 24 year volunteer with SBCO, also uses her time and talents to help other organizations in the community.

Tasked with managing clothing inventory, Bente recruited Huguette Baad to serve as her assistant. Back in 1998, the group’s clothing program was a fledgling enterprise compared to today’s Kids’ Closet that annually distributes about 3,000 wardrobes to local students. Twenty-four years ago, all of the merchandise was delivered to a garage in one of the model homes in HOA2. Since sorting and counting the clothing was a hot job (especially during the summer months), Bente recounts how she and Hugette would take advantage of times when no one was visiting the model. They’d close the garage door, open the door to house, and enjoy moments of cool air wafting into the garage. Ahhh.

Eventually, Bente turned over inventory management to Pat Staufer and took on the job of scheduling school visits to Kids’ Closet as well as volunteering at the Closet helping students select shoes and clothing. Since her husband died in 2015, she has worked as a substitute SBCO office staff volunteer.

While many would think supporting SaddleBrooke Community Outreach for 24 years would be a major achievement – and enough volunteerism to fill anyone’s days – Bente would disagree. She has been a volunteer at the SaddleBrooke One Library for 22 years, worked with Care and Share until it was dissolved, and has been a Senior Village volunteer for the past five years. She also served as a volunteer with Odyssey Hospice from 2000 to 2010.

As someone who has dedicated the past two decades of her life to helping others, Bente recalls how working with kids has put a smile on her face. Seeing a child jump up and down with joy over a new pair of shoes is a precious moment. Little girls wearing new clothing and giggling at their reflection in the mirror are adorable. She also has valued her time helping elderly and very ill people. Those experiences have made her count her blessings.

Bente would be the first to say, “Volunteer! The smiles of children and a dying person’s tears of gratitude offer huge emotional benefits to those who help. You can make a difference in the lives of others and meet people you otherwise would never have known. When you volunteer your time, you receive far more than you give away. Writing a donation check is good but volunteering is more satisfying. If you can – do both!


Volunteer Motivated by Love of Kids

by Nancy McCluskey-Moore

Kris Sallee moved to SaddleBrooke four years ago from San Diego. For 29 years, she worked as a bookkeeper and auditor for Vons, a grocery store chain now owned by Safeway. Before retiring, she worked in accounting for a nonprofit mental health system. For many of her working years, Kris was also a single mother of a son and a daughter.

Kris Sallee puts her love of children to work as both a buyer and day manager for SBCO’s Kids’ Closet.

Kris learned about SaddleBrooke Community Outreach (SBCO) from a friend who told her there was a “local children’s charity.” With no grandchildren of her own, Kris saw this as an opportunity to help young children thrive. She plunged in, becoming the buyer for adult-sized clothing for the Kids’ Closet’s fall season and “SUE” (socks, underwear, and essentials like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes) for both the spring and fall seasons. Now she also serves as the Kids’ Closet Thursday day co-manager (along with Bea Dilahunt) in both spring and fall. Each session lasts for approximately 10 weeks.

As a day-manager, she is responsible for labeling plastic bags with the children’s names and attaching them, along with each child’s information sheet, to a clipboard. The sheet provides basic information about the child, including name, age, grade in school and – if the child has come to Kids’ Closet before – his/her most recent clothing and shoe sizes. At the end of each Thursday session, Kris and Bea assemble and review each child’s paperwork for completeness prior to submitting it to Marcia Van Omeran for data entry. Kris credits Michelle Schroeder, who manages and trouble shoots the point-of-sale system used to track Kids’ Closet inventory, with being “tactful and caring” when problems arise.

According to Kris, all the benefits she receives from her volunteer work with Kids’ Closet far exceed the effort involved. “You can see the need right in front of you. The kids come in wearing clothing from past seasons, so you know they appreciated what they were given. I feel blessed to be able to do this work.” Her time at “The Closet” has yielded some memorable moments. The pre-K kids are always a joy. They are enchanted by the whole concept of choosing their shoes and clothing. One little girl put on a full outfit of new clothes, stood in front of the mirror and declared, “It’s perfect!” One time when some first graders came for clothing, there was confusion about names. A little girl was worried her name wouldn’t be called. She said, “I have been waiting my WHOLE LIFE to come here.” She was the last to shop, but certainly among the happiest to board the bus, laden with a bag filled with new shoes and clothing.

Kris encourages others to volunteer for SBCO and the Kids’ Closet program. “Across the board, everything is managed efficiently, ensuring that volunteers can be effective and the programs succeed.”