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Volunteer assumes varied roles at United Way, at church and as a friend

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

Designing her life around the belief that her faith requires her to care for others, Ann Lewis is committed to a philosophy of volunteerism that has impact on both individuals and the community.

Ann Lewis
Ann Lewis finds varied ways to volunteer.

Volunteering primarily through United Way, Calvary Chapel and as a friend to an AIDS patient, she seeks to “ensure that vulnerable populations are included, not isolated,” she said.

“Christ told us we have a responsibility to care for others and not turn our backs.  God has been good to me and lets me know I am still capable of helping others even though I am 80 years old,” said Ann, sharing how she lives that faith in the three settings.

Known as “Mom” to staff and volunteers of the Spokane County United Way where she has volunteered for more than 20 years, she embraces that description.

“Like any mom, I am a hugger and love being hugged back,” Ann said.   “I also treat people as their moms would treat them.  I love everyone at United Way.  I give hugs, hold them, scold them, encourage them and tell them what they need to do and why.”

She will tell staff and volunteers to eat properly, get rest and sends them home if they are sick.

A donor to United Way for 44 years, she brought to the organization skills she developed while at Farm Credit Bank, where she worked for 22 years until her retirement in 1987.

Ann started as a keypunch operator at the bank and progressed from using basic computer skills to complicated state-of-the-art systems.  She eventually became a part of management as the data processing supervisor.

While she calls on her management skills daily at United Way, she does not hesitate to fill in at the reception desk or help with office duties when necessary.

She spends most of her time as a volunteer, but United Way brings her on temporarily as staff during major campaigns.  This fall, as she has done for years, she oversaw “campaign central,” caring for the team of professionals on loan to United Way from local businesses.

Spokane County United Way is a nonprofit organization that partners with local agencies, volunteers, donors and local businesses to identify and evaluate community priorities and invest in programs that create solutions to pressing community issues.

Ann said that in 2008 the local United Way invested $3,864,000 in programs in the community, as well as United Way programs that provide direct program support.

“It is one of nearly 1,300 local organizations in the United States that are part of the worldwide United Way network in 45 countries and territories,” she explained.

United Way began in 1887 in Denver, when a priest, two ministers and a rabbi realized that by cooperating they could better address the city’s welfare problem, so they formed a united campaign to support 10 health and welfare agencies.

Last year, she said the local United Way established “a bold vision for the future” with five-year goals to decrease child abuse and neglect; increase kindergarten readiness, and increase the high school graduation rate.

Along with the loaned executives, staff and team of more than 100 volunteers, she understands that to achieve these goals, it is necessary to invest today in education, income and health.

She supports United Way’s commitment to ensure children are nurtured, safe and succeed in school, and that people have the means to meet their basic needs through employment and sustainable assets, so they are able to make healthy choices.

Ann said United Way’s priority to include vulnerable populations comes through partnerships with others in addressing challenges with youth, adult and elder populations challenged because of dependency or disability.

“There have to be services to meet basic needs,” Ann said.  “We support programs and services that make it possible for all citizens to have a chance to be the best they can be.”

Born in Wichita, Kans., Ann moved to Claremore, Okla.—the hometown of humorist Will Rogers—when she was seven.  She grew up in a Southern Baptist home.  Her first job when she was 16 was as a tour guide in the Will Rogers Museum, where she earned 50 cents an hour.

After her marriage, she lived in both Tulsa and Bartlesville, Okla., and moved to Spokane in 1959 when her husband was relocated because of his job.

She spent the next few years rearing their children before she reentered the workforce at Farm Credit Bank.  While she was at the bank, she started her volunteer journey with United Way.

Although Ann and her family attended church regularly, in 1980 she decided to seek a new place to worship.  When she visited Calvary Chapel at 511 N. Hastings Rd., she found her faith reinforced and has worshipped there since. 

As at United Way, she has assumed many roles in her 23 years of volunteering at the church, from teaching classes to working in the church office.

For 20 years, she has worked in Calvary Chapel’s information center, its “go to place” on weekends and between services to have questions answered and find printed materials.

One highlight of Ann’s affiliation with Calvary Chapel has been participating in three mission trips to Russia from 1999 to 2004.  Each of the two-week trips to Russia was part of the Calvary Chapel “Church Planting Ministry.”  On the first trip, she and other members helped establish a Calvary Chapel in Moscow.  Her second and third trips helped existing Calvary Chapel ministries in Moscow and Volgograd.

“I was moved to meet so many young Russians who were hungry for meaning and faith options in their lives.  I was also moved at how they were open to Christ,” she said. “In Russia, the young people are leading the way for Christianity.”

Ann’s commitment to helping others also resulted in a 10-year personal and supportive relationship with a woman AIDS patient who referred to Ann as her Christian mother.  Although the patient passed away, Ann remains a “grandmother” to the children the woman left behind.

“I had such joy seeing her go from wanting to give up to valuing each day and enjoying life,” she said.

Through her relationship with this AIDS patient, she has met and supported other people with AIDS.

“As part of God’s family, I feel we all have a responsibility to do what we can to care and support each other, no matter what the circumstances,” Ann said.

For information, call 838-6581.