Volunteer Opens up the World to Homebound Residents

Reading is important to Clarice Belling.

That is why this member of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program has been participating in the Appleton Public Library’s Walking Books program for the last 14 years. Volunteers of this program deliver materials to homebound patrons. In 2018, the library’s circulation to Walking Books patrons totaled 1,903. Belling is among 28 volunteers in the program.

Clarice Belling, a member of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program that is sponsored by Volunteer Fox Cities, delivers books to a homebound patron of the Appleton Public Library.

“I like to read,” Belling said. “It is important to me and I just feel that the people who aren’t able to get out and get their own books, it’s just a good thing to do. I have met so many inspirational people. There are people who have disabilities, but they still are so vibrant and alive and I think some of that is due to their reading.”

Belling, who retired from speech therapy in 1996, has been delivering books to a woman for the last three years. She is not mobile and dependent on oxygen. The woman repeated a quote to Belling that she has never forgotten: “Reading allows you to go places when you have to stay where you are.”

“The people who I meet, a lot of them I find inspiring,” she said, “because of the fact that no matter what their situation is, they still want to read – they still want to learn and do things – which to me is an inspiration.”

First, Belling gets acquainted with the patron to find out what kind of books they like. They may be in their own home or at an assisted living facility. Sometimes they give her the names of their favorite authors or the genre that they like. Then, about once a month, she visits the Appleton Public Library, browses through the collections and chooses about six books for the patron.

Colleen Holz, the library’s volunteer coordinator and community partnership specialist, said the Walking Books program would not exist without volunteers. She also explained that friendships can form because the patron and volunteer are seeing each other on a regular basis.

“A lot of times our patrons are not getting a lot of social interaction, so it is very nice to have someone to talk to about their favorite books,” she said.

When asked about the impact volunteers make at the library, Holz said they are extremely valuable to their mission.

“We could not get the materials back out to the shelves as fast as we could without all the volunteers in circulation and we would not be able to take care of the materials in the same way,” she said. “We have volunteers who take care of the CDs and DVDs and make sure that they are in good working condition. Operationally, we rely on volunteers a great deal to provide that great customer service.”

Carol Bloemer, the director of RSVP, points out that several RSVP volunteers have played a role in the programming at the Appleton Public Library.

“Several years ago, two volunteers faithfully worked on the microfiche project to capture saved documents to preserve,” Bloemer said. In the past year, most of the volunteer support has been to shelve books. Three RSVP volunteers have provided 184 hours of book-shelving assistance.”

Belling also volunteers at her church and tutors a young Hispanic woman for Literacy Education Services Inc. She also served as a caseworker for LEAVEN for more than 20 years. Today she is the organization’s concierge, where she welcomes and checks in people entering the building and directs them to the correct agency.

“Caseworkers review the interviews when someone is interviewed and basically make the decision on what help we are able to give them, she said. “We talk to landlords or car repair shops, and others, but we don’t often relate to the client. As the concierge, I get to talk to a lot of people, so I like that.”