Relationships benefit from volunteering together, couples say

06/03/2014 2:33 PM

06/03/2014 2:33 PM

This past winter, as they headed into the East Grand Forks Library, Mike and Jean Moe would sometimes find people who’d waited 30 minutes outside to receive tax preparation help from volunteers.

“And you know how cold it was this winter,” he said.

Mike and his wife, Jean, have served four years as volunteers and are local site coordinators for the AARP-sponsored tax service, aimed at low-income elderly but open to all.

“There’s a real need for this,” Mike said. “Some of these people have no money.”

Volunteering not only makes him and Jean “feel good,” it’s also good for their relationship, he said.

“It makes us much more close. We have to actually sit down and talk and plan our day.”

Doing volunteer work together enhances their communication as a married couple, he said.

“It gives us something structured to talk about, and that works into other aspects of life.”

AARP tax preparation volunteers are required to have another person check their work. Mike and Jean did that “quality review” for each other.

That kind of reliance and communication “extends to the home,” Mike said.

Jean prepares a newsletter for the North Dakota Hearing Society, which Mike reviews for errors and other input, she said.

During his nearly 31-year career as a pilot, Mike would often be away from home two or three weeks at a time, he said. As he approached retirement in 2009, he was “kind of worried that if we spent this much time together, we wouldn’t like it.”

Turns out, “we really do enjoy being together,” he said. “We found that we not only survive, we flourish.”

Jean said the volunteer work she and Mike do has affected their children, both of whom live in Grand Forks.

“I believe it’s influenced them” to also give of their time and talents, she said.

One of their sons, James Moe, “helped immeasurably” by setting up nine computers for the AARP tax preparation site, she said.

James, a pilot, doesn’t have a lot of time off, Mike said, but he spent almost three days before tax season solving computer problems and properly connecting equipment.

Their daughter, Susan Moe, has also become a volunteer. An avid dancer, she participated in the recent “Dancing for Special Stars” event to raise funds for North Dakota Special Olympics.

In similar ways, Jodie and Bruce Storhaug, of Grand Forks, say volunteering together has positively affected their relationship. They have been helping other people, together and with their children, for about nine years, Jodie said.

“It’s nice to have something you share in together,” Bruce said. “Volunteering is a relationship-builder overall.”

For the past four years, the Storhaugs have led the Feed My Starving Children annual effort, based at Calvary Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, to provide meals for children worldwide.

In the acts of volunteering, “I just think, in our relationship, our love for each other grows,” Jodie said. “You see that giving heart of the person you’re married to. You see more deeply into that heart.

“And – not negatively – you are proud to see them serving and giving and not being selfish with their time, giving to other people.”

Mutual support is even more important when the project “is more long-term demanding,” Jodie said. “It’s easier to do together. One person is not pulled in another direction.

“When you go through the ‘valleys’ of service, it’s not always easy. Some days, it’s harder to press yourself and get it done.”

In the Storhaug family, the seeds of volunteerism were sewn after the flood of 1997, when people from around the country came in droves to help residents here, she said.

“We saw a lot of people come to our homes and serve us. The gift that service can be was kind of driven home to us.”

A mother and her two daughters from Connecticut came to the Storhaug home to help out, Bruce said. “That’s how they were spending their family vacation. That really amazed me.

“That puts more of a desire to do those kinds of things in our hearts, too.”

When their daughters, Mara and Kaia, were in high school, the family went on church-sponsored mission trips – as family vacations – to Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Seattle to lend a hand with such tasks as building projects, food preparation and child care.

“We always had an interest in wanting to be involved in what our girls were doing,” Jodie said.

She and Bruce also wanted to teach that “we are made to serve; it’s a joy to serve,” she said. “We wanted to be an example to them.”

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