AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteer Judy Koppenol

For Judy Koppenol, an “Opportunity” and “Blessing” to Serve

yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7 - AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteer Judy KoppenolWhen Judy Koppenol received a kidney transplant some four years ago, it hardly slowed her down. Instead, she simply switched gears.

Judy had been serving her community as a Foster Grandparent within the Newaygo Public School system. After the transplant, “I wasn’t really physically up to being around children like I’d been, so I decided to go into the Senior Companion program.”

Both initiatives thrive under the auspices of AmeriCorps Seniors and are sponsored in Newaygo, Lake and Muskegon counties by Catholic Charities West Michigan.

As a Foster Grandparent, Judy served as role model, mentor and friend to six children on the autism spectrum in a Newaygo school classroom. She learned, in part, during the 22 years she worked as an aide in her former hometown of Grand Rapids for children with special needs enrolled at Ken-O-Sha Park Elementary School.

She likes to think she and others in the Foster Grandparent program bring a special dose of wisdom to the classroom, to which the children are intuitively drawn: “I also think that as grandparents, we portray a certain degree of respect, and so receive it from the kids.”

In her role as Senior Companion, Judy enjoys offering assistance and friendship to older folks in her community who need help with anything from shopping to transportation.

“Some of them are just lonely for companionship,” she says. “Or they might need help with simple household tasks. So we do them together. We might cook together. Anything you might do as friends.”

For Judy, it’s a long-term commitment. She points to one 90-year-old client as an example, noting that when she moved from her home into an assisted living facility, “I chose to stick with her, whatever her needs might be.”

Judy firmly believes “we have a place in life and the whole idea of my life is out of my hands. There are people who have pushed me in directions I might not have gone myself.”

A lifelong Catholic, Judy’s own mother was once a nun, but quit the order to come back and help care for her siblings. Judy belongs to St. Bartholomew parish in Newaygo and says her faith is a motivator: “I think I am led by God. And I was raised my whole life and taught by my parents that you give back, so I appreciate the value of volunteering. I see it as an opportunity.”

Judy emphasizes the Senior Companion program is in dire need of more participants, noting “we lost a lot of people during the pandemic because we weren’t allowed to go into people’s homes…though that has now changed.

“We’re desperately trying to build it up again, because you can do so many more things now that restrictions have been lifted.”

Regarding both programs for which she’s worked, Judy feels it’s a blessing to be able to serve: “It just gives you such a rewarding feeling to know you’re helping those who need a helping hand.”

Interested in becoming an AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteer? Fill out the form below or call us at 231-726-1200 and someone will contact you with more information: