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A true calling: Powers dedicates life to others

97-year-old is behind the welcome RMH families receive

June 22, 2012

Terese Powers is a giver. It's been a part of who she is since the Great Depression.

Though her family had next to nothing when Powers was a little girl, what they did have was shared with neighbors. Powers has had an unwavering dedication to helping those in need ever since. Even at 97, volunteering is a personal calling, and she answers it at the Ronald McDonald House in Wauwatosa.

"I just feel everyone needs help at sometime or other, regardless how little it is," Powers said. "If everyone could do a kind act every day, it would be a good thing."

Ronald McDonald House Charities provides a home away from home for families of seriously ill or injured children. Not only do the home and its volunteers provide meals, transportation and other living expenses for free, it offers opportunities for families to find comfort and support. Since the Wauwatosa location opened in 1984, RMH has helped 33,000 families and its 38 guest rooms are always at full occupancy. No one is turned away for inability to pay.

There are 500 volunteers who assist in one way, shape or form at the Ronald McDonald House. Many give an hour here and there. The majority stop in once every other week. A bi-weekly time commitment was never enough for Powers, who has taken on housekeeping tasks at RMH since it opened. She still volunteers every Monday for as many hours as it takes to complete her work.

"I don't know anything that I could do that gives me more joy than to do what I'm doing," Powers said. "I just have to do something for people. It helps me a lot."

The job is as important to her as it is to the families and staff at the house.

"She comes every week, which is not typical for a volunteer, usually our volunteers come every other week for three hours," said Jacquelyn Wahlberg, marketing and public relations coordinator for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Wisconsin. "She puts together the folders we use to check in and check out the families and it its really important because it has to be right."

Many families are scared and emotional when they come to RMH in order to be close to their sick or injured children.

"All the information that we've provided (families) to get them comfortable is prepared by Terese," RMH Communications Director Pam Buckley said.

Though the joy she gets from helping people was instilled in her as a child, her resolve was strengthened in 1968. In that year, her husband and mother passed away one week apart.

"That was tough, so I made up my mind to continue to do what my parents did, and they were always so giving and that's why I'm here," Powers said.

In addition to volunteering at RMH, she does so at Christ Child Society, an organization dedicated to helping children in need. The society donated the funds to build the playroom at RMH.

Despite overcoming cancer and battling arthritis, Powers said, she vowed to herself she would make it to 100 and volunteer every step of the way. She turns 98 in October.

For the staff at RMH, Powers is irreplaceable.

"For everyone in the house that has had the opportunity to know Terese, she is obviously very inspirational to us - so kind, so thoughtful and a great sense of humor," Buckley said.

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