What drives a person to devote time to others?
For Spring Valley resident and longtime volunteer Julie Mlinar, it is just a part of her nature.
“I think I was raised that way,” Mlinar said of how she began volunteering. “I grew up on a farm, so there was always work. You always helped neighbors, there were no questions asked about that. And it's just kind of how I'm made. I've always had a lot of energy and I think that is from growing up that way. It was just a way of life.”
Mlinar refers to Gary Chapman's book “The 5 Love Languages” in explaining that her language “is definitely serving, it is just the way I am. That is how I express love to people – by doing what I can for them.”
Volunteering is not only about the good one is doing for others, but also the good that it does for one's soul.
“It's just the feeling that you get – the pleasure of helping people. You feel like you've accomplished something,” she said. “Some people do big things; I'm not one of those people, but I can do a lot of little things that might make a difference.”
Mlinar certainly keeps busy within the Spring Valley community as she is the president of the Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce, serves on the tourism board, sits on the Regional Bike Trail Committee, teaches an art class for high school age home school students, helps with Meals on Wheels and is involved with numerous church activities.
“Church has always been a huge basis of volunteerism for me through the years with everything from Sunday school to worship music, youth groups and, one of my favorites, mission trips,” she said. “So it's not only being involved here in town, the country, but also I've been to China, Africa and Mexico on different trips.”
Community members and tourists alike also recognize Mlinar for her work as the Spring Valley Historical Society’s director and even with this position she finds a way to volunteer.
“There are a lot of hours that I put in – there are certain things that I make for the gift shop and that is totally volunteer,” she said. “So within my job there is some volunteering with things like the ice cream social, the Christmas tea, all of that I make the food for and that is all volunteer.”
Mlinar admits her volunteering has changed through the years, as she now spends more time assisting her mother-in-law and her parents, but she is still able to find enough time to satisfy her serving spirit.
“I've noticed that right now I feel like I'm not doing as much, but I still am, it's just that there was a time where I was doing a lot more. My family would be like 'where are you going today' or I'd be making something special and they'd ask 'who's that for?' because they figured it wasn't for them,” she explained. “Now I've had to say no a few times and that is really hard, but there are just priorities sometimes that family comes first and that's OK.”
Even when she is not donating her time, Mlinar finds ways to stay involved with the many activities offered in Spring Valley.
“There are a couple of things that I don't really look at as volunteering, like the community choir, because that is just way fun,” said Mlinar. “And being in plays with the community theater; that is kind of a selfish volunteerism I think because that is more me based.”
Mlinar believes volunteering makes an even bigger impact in smaller communities such as Spring Valley, noting in a small town it still has “that neighborly feel where you are willing to help people and that is a good thing because it is certainly not very apparent in the world today, I don't think.”
Surprisingly, Mlinar explained that she still has areas within the community that she would like to become involved with, such as the Spring Valley Area Food Shelf and the new movement to get a veterans home in Spring Valley.
“I want to see that go,” Mlinar said about the veterans home. “I know it is very important that they have veterans who lead that but I would definitely be supportive of that and I would love to see something happen with it. That is one that just really tugs on my heart. I'd hate to see that lost, not only for the vets, but it would be great for the town, for employment, all the way around. It would be a huge boost for us.”
While much of the country settles into a society filled with entitlement, Mlinar sees the community of Spring Valley taking strides against this trend.
“One huge asset we have here is the Kiwanis Club and through that they have the Key Club and the younger Builders Club. That is good, they are starting to get kids involved in working and I love to see that. I don't know if it continues on with them after school, but I hope so. That is an asset that can make a difference that some other communities may not have,” Mlinar expressed. “And I think the school does a good job with just having the kids treat each other well and that will teach them to go through life treating each other better. You can't force it on them but you can try to establish that sort of thing.”
When it comes to volunteering, Mlinar says she realizes, “a lot of it comes down to people just being so busy with life, it’s hard because they don't have a lot of time; as we get older I think we have a little more time that we can spare.”
And though Mlinar may not always have as much time to spare for others as she would like, she never takes a moment of this time or the others volunteering beside her for granted.
“I know so many people that do so much and I think because we are in a small town you are more aware of how many people are volunteering. There are just so many out there that do so much and I'm proud to be classified in that group. That is kind of a cool group to be in,” Mlinar expressed.