March 31, 2023

(April 8, 2010) – A difficult economy and lack of personal income hasn’t kept people from reaching out in service to others.  About 63.4 million people in the United States – 26.8 percent of the population – volunteered for non-profit organizations from September 2008 to September 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.In Minnesota, about 38 percent of the population volunteers – ranking it third among 50 states. The number of people volunteering at Hennepin County Library reached an all-time high in 2009, with more than 2500 adult and teen volunteers contributed more than 86,000 hours of service.

Hennepin County Library calls unpaid volunteers “priceless” for their support of staff and helping the library deliver public services, assist students in the Homework Hub, and help language learners at Conversation Circles. They also make sure books are in order on the shelves, checking in returned books and other materials, shelving books, assisting at library programs, and doing many more supportive tasks.

“Celebrating People in Action” is the theme for National Volunteer Week (April 18-24) recognitions across the country. Meet a sampling of county residents who take action to improve their communities by volunteering at Hennepin County Library.

Chee Yang of Minneapolis is a new teen volunteer at Hennepin County Library – North Regional whose favorite library resources are books, magazines, and newspapers.  In October, Yang began helping to lead the library’s Anime Club for teens to fulfill a Hmong College Prep Academy graduation requirement.  The 12th grader also says volunteering gives him an opportunity to do something new and to help out.

“Chee has been a dependable and earnest volunteer and has done all that has been asked of him and more,” said librarian Aaron Lundholm. “Chee has an interest in manga and anime and is serving his community by bringing something new to North Regional Library.

“Shortly after he started his volunteer service, he proposed starting an Anime Club and, naturally, I was thrilled with the idea,” he added. “Since then, he has taken deliberate steps to get the Anime Club going. He has shown that he is a self-starter by writing a brief proposal, outlining a budget, designing an elaborate poster and planning specific activities for Anime Club meetings…With Chee’s leadership and sincere passion for the subject, I’m confident the club will succeed.”

Eric Uzoegbu of Brooklyn Park has been a computer tutor at Hennepin County Library – Brooklyn Park since May of last year.  Why volunteer?  “I used the library resources a great deal years ago when I was in school,” Uzoegbu said.  “Now that I have some free time, I thought the best way to give back is to volunteer a few hours a week.”

Problem solving in his volunteer work gives him great satisfaction, especially when the customer is on deadline or needs help with a problem that otherwise would cost them money if taken to a professional.

“I find it gratifying when I can suggest an alternate way to solve a problem or free tools from the Internet to use for their project,” Uzoegbu said, adding that he thinks the most valuable resource is the HCL library staff.  “I find them very eager and willing to help.”

At the Franklin Learning Center, adults study English, math, technology and other subjects and prepare for the GED and U.S. citizenship exams. Learners work one-to-one or in small groups with instructors and volunteer tutors.  Librarians describe FLC volunteer Clem Engen of Minneapolis as “a lifesaver to the program.”

A volunteer at the library for almost eight years, Engen teaches everything from reading, writing, and math to GED and citizenship preparation four afternoons a week.  He is a favorite of the FLC adult learners.

“Staff, learners and volunteers alike all smile when we see Clem lock up his bike in front of the library and walk through the door,” said program coordinator Nancy Thornbury. “He brings warmth and a generous spirit to all.”

For Engen, the rewards of volunteering are the students’ appreciation for his help, their eagerness to learn, and seeing growth in their abilities and achievement of their goals, such as becoming U.S. citizens and passing GED tests.

Tom Bretl of Plymouth has been a Hennepin County Library volunteer since 2008.  Now retired, he said, “My background as a teacher, school scheduler, and computer programmer seemed to fit in perfectly with some of HCL’s needs.”

Bretl volunteers every Tuesday morning updating databases in the Communications and Volunteer Services sections, entering Survey Monkey data and making spreadsheets.  He spends Tuesday afternoons volunteering at the Homework Hub center at Hennepin County Library – Hopkins.  Bretl smiled as he said, “I enjoy all of my volunteer work…but I think Homework Hub gives me the most satisfaction. The students who participate greatly appreciate my help, and the program has provided a very nice way for me to transition out of full time teaching.”

Bretl had a strong desire to “give back” by volunteering, but he noted that “volunteer work gives me a tremendous amount of pleasure and satisfaction.”

His favorite library resource?  Reserving books online and downloading audio eBooks.

Ed Daniel of Bloomington has volunteered for more than 11 years at Hennepin County Library – Penn Lake in Bloomington and now at Hennepin County Library – Southdale inEdina.  He has done all sorts of behind-the-scenes work, including shelving materials, checking in materials, and processing incoming requests.  Daniel said, “I cannot get over the many titles, the diverse nature of the items people from all over Hennepin County borrow and pick up at Southdale!”  He volunteers to “feel useful – to be part of something larger than myself.  And I have a soft spot for libraries.”

Like Eric Uzoegbu, Daniel believes the best library resource is the staff.  “I know they are not ‘cataloged,’ but they are the best!”

Judy Halverson of Minneapolis, a Franklin Learning Center volunteer since 1991, has contributed well over 10,000 hours of service.  “We are fortunate because she volunteers every day of the week,” said program coordinator Nancy Thornbury.  “Judy’s only transportation is her feet – rain, sleet, or snow, she shows up.”

Halverson has high expectations of the students and is esteemed by them – a great combination for success. She assists adult students in all subject areas – reading, writing, and math and everything in between. She says students must find success within themselves through hard work and perseverance. She truly inspires her students in their writing abilities and compiles a weekly magazine from stories they write.

In addition to her impressive hours at FLC, Halverson tutors at other sites and in her home.  Her circle of tutoring takes her on a 22-block walk, which she values for the exercise.

Her favorite library resource?  The broad range of reading materials available for adult learners.

For more information about Hennepin County Library volunteer opportunities, call your local library or go online to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *