Dunnwald receives her award from Governor Terry Branstad.
Melinda Dunnwald volunteered 193 hours at Jordan Creek Elementary and Stilwell Junior High during the 2014-15 school year. She helped with activities including the Jordan Creek Kids Care Club, Backpack Buddies, and the Stilwell drama productions. Dunnwald also volunteers with organizations including West Des Moines Human Services, Joppa Outreach, and the Puppy Jake Foundation. Dunnwald has more than fulfilled the requirements for the district’s Silver Cord volunteer award, but she is not a student. Dunnwald is a district parent.
Dunnwald, who was recently elected to the West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education, does not have a main volunteer project or cause. She prefers to follow community needs. She will check different Internet resources, look up national observances to find time-sensitive needs, and cold-call organizations to see what they need help with most. The research takes time, and she did recognize that not every family can commit the amount of time hers does to volunteering. She recommends starting small.
“Teachers are trying to help our students for the common good, so parents can start in the home and the classroom,” Dunnwald said. “Start with your own child.”
Dunnwald’s daughter cleaning a school with her friends.
Dunnwald’s children were part of the Jordan Creek Kids Care Club and other service projects in elementary school, and they volunteer with Dunnwald outside of school at places likes Meals from the Heartland. They may be champion volunteers now, but she taught them about volunteering through household chores — things as small as doing the dishes. By guiding her children to see how those small actions impacted the family, she turned chores into acts of service. When they were ready to expand outside of their home, she started with their school.
“Every school has a way to get involved,” she said. She added, “Talk to parent groups, guidance counselors, and the secretaries. They all know the needs in the school because they see it firsthand.”
Dunnwald’s son and his friends at the Heart Connection drive.
The family reflects on its volunteer work now the same way it reflected on chores when the children were younger. She still has to give her children the occasional nudge, but they love experiences where they can interact with people, do something active, and see the impact they are having.
“I don’t want to force them to do anything. That’s my big goal, is that they want to and don’t ‘have’ to,” Dunnwald explained. “They feel so good after they help others that they want to do more.”
Dunnwald encourages families to view volunteering as an opportunity to meet new people, socialize, and do something together. Families should play to their strengths. Some will find it easier to commit to one passion project, while others will want to try different things.
Dunnwald received the Governor’s Volunteer Award for her service this year. She was nominated by Barb Tigges, the Jordan Creek Elementary school counselor. Tigges has worked closely with Dunnwald, especially through the Jordan Creek Kids Care Club.
Dunnwald with her family.
“Melinda is quick to roll up her sleeves and help out on a moment’s notice for any need that may arise and always does it with a cheerful smile that radiates sunshine to all who are blessed to know her,” Tigges said in her nomination letter. “She is a true joy-maker, and is very worthy of being recognized by the Governor for this prestigious honor.”
Dunnwald was honored to receive the award, but quick to point out that it was non-competitive and that she was one of many recipients. For her, volunteering is not anything outstanding; it is more like a way of life.
“It was Barb’s way to say thank you to me,” Dunnwald said. “It’s nice to be honored, but I don’t need the recognition. It’s more fulfilling than anything I’ve ever done.”
No matter how each family approaches volunteering and engagement, for Dunnwald, the most important part is helping others and teaching her children to see value in that. Personally, she sees the value in all types of family engagement, from checking over homework to volunteering almost 200 hours each year. Dunnwald is a stand-out when it comes to family engagement and volunteering, but she is quick to remind people there is no “right way” to volunteer.
Please note: This article was written in July 2015, then held until after the school board election to avoid influencing voters. Dunnwald was elected to the West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education in September 2015. She will be sworn into office Monday, Sept. 21, 2015.