Volunteer Spotlight

Jaclyn BolandJaclynBoland_vs

Jaclyn Boland found her way to United Methodist Cooperative Ministries’ through the AmeriCorp VISTA (Volunteers in Service To America) program. AmeriCorps VISTA is the national service program in which members commit to serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, working to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses, or  strengthen community groups, all in the fight against poverty.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Jaclyn graduated with honors from Ohio University, Athens, OH. There she earned two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and a Bachelor of Science in journalism.  After graduation she moved to Cuenca, Spain where she taught English as the Language/Culture Assistant in the Jorge Manrique High School’s bilingual program.  She also traveled around Europe and Spain and privately tutored students and families for “the best year of her life.”

“During her time as a VISTA, Jaclyn has had the opportunity to learn about and observe the many factors of poverty and to experience what is considered to be the most powerful tool to lead people out of poverty – literacy,” said Jan Setzekorn, UMCM’s Director of Literacy Services. “Her work here focused on four areas of adult literacy that are critical to successfully alleviating poverty –family literacy, financial literacy, health literacy and college/career pathways. She has been a great asset to our program, and an outstanding person to work with.”

Jaclyn’s work led to the development and implementation  of several outstanding projects. Included in her accomplishments was a Financial Literacy learning opportunity for low income adults held at an apartment  complex in Pinellas Park.  At UMCM’s Families Learning Together Program site at the High Point YMCA in Clearwater, Jaclyn created a lending library for both children and adults and implemented the use of IPads as educational tools.  She successfully recruited students from Eckerd College to serve as literacy volunteers.

Jaclyn developed a College and Career Pathways project that gave volunteer tutors and adult students the chance to visit and explore opportunities for continuing education at Pinellas Technical Education Center in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, and Dixie Hollins’ Adult Education Center, Tomlinson Adult Center, and North East Community School, all St. Petersburg.  To the delight of the children and adults, Jaclyn also wrote and received grants for field trips to Great Explorations Children’s Museum, St. Petersburg; the Glazer Children’s Museum, Tampa; and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. 

Jaclyn’s year with VISTA ended in March.  Now she is making plans to pursue graduate studies in International Development in the fall.  In her spare time, Jaclyn enjoys cooking, pilates, running, reading, practicing Spanish, and sunshine at the beach!

Judy SzypotJudySzypot_vs

Judy Szypot of Palm Harbor has been cheerfully and enthusiastically volunteering in our administrative offices one morning a week since July of 2010. 

She has put her 32 years of experience in administrative work with Eastman Kodak Company near Rochester, NY, to great use, helping with a wide variety of tasks, especially volunteer and donor relations and data entry.  Judy is very adept on the computer and willing to take on any challenge.

 “Volunteering at UM Cooperative Ministries allows me to use some of the skills I used in the workforce,” said Judy.  “I am happy that the office needs are a good match for those skills. I see volunteering in the Largo office as a win-win for the organization and for me.”

Though retired, Judy likes to spend her days working hard.She volunteers each week at the Palm Harbor Library and the Countryside Library in Clearwater.

In addition to volunteering, Judy enjoys traveling with her husband, Bruce. The couple loves travel adventures and hiking as well as reading. They are also very fond of spending time with their grown son, Ryan, also of Palm Harbor.

Shaun EggerShaunEgger_vs

For the past two summers, Shaun Egger, 17, a junior at Palm Harbor University High School, spent five weeks as a camp counselor for the P.A.S.S. Tutorial Summer Learning Camp.

Shaun says that the best part about working with the elementary school children at P.A.S.S. is their overall attitude towards learning new things. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time when one of the children showed up unhappy or not ready to learn,” said Shaun.

He added that volunteering is important to him because he wants to help the P.A.S.S. students to be academically successful so their futures can be brighter. “It gives me a good feeling when they get that look on their face, as if they’re saying: ‘Oh, I get it!’” said Shaun.

Born in Dunedin, Shaun has grown up in Oldsmar with his parents, Shaun and Becky Egger. He plays ice hockey for the Palm Harbor University High School team and is a member of National Honor Society and the Debate team. Shaun is an Altar Server at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church in Safety Harbor. His hobbies include playing the drums and making short films. Even with his busy schedule, he continues to volunteer with the P.A.S.S. Tutorial Program one afternoon a week throughout the school year.

Thanks, Shaun, for all you do for the students at P.A.S.S.!

The United Methodist Women of the Gulf Central DistrictUMW1

For over 25 years, the United Methodist Women of the Gulf Central District have provided leadership for our district Ditty Bag mission project. From stitching to stringing to stuffing, the women have spent hours lovingly creating these bags full of personal hygiene items that are distributed to individuals who are homeless, families in transition, and migrant farmworkers' children. Over the years, their work has touched more than 100,000 people facing difficult times in their lives, providing them with the ability to keep themselves clean and healthy during a time of instability.

The UMW units that are especially successful in the Ditty Bag Project are those that rise to a higher level of leadership by involving their entire church. Lorena Walton, the Social Action chairperson for the Allendale UMC United Methodist Women, works all year on organizing the Ditty Bag Program for her congregation.  After bags are made and collections of the personal hygiene items have been completed, the parties begin. UMW2

The first party, in August, is a “Ditty Bag Stringing Party” and the second, held in September, is the “Stuffing Party”. The United Methodist Men, the youth group, and church families of all ages gather to finish and assemble the ditty bags. “It becomes a celebratory experience for the whole church as we work together in an outreach mission for the homeless,” said Winnie Pfister, president of the Allendale UMW.

This type of story of outstanding leadership is common in the United Methodist Women of the Gulf Central district. Their support of Cooperative Ministries' programs and projects is extensive, with the Ditty Bags as just one example.  Our greatest thanks go to each and every member for all they do.

Joe and Mary Ann BritoJoeAndMaryAnnBrito_vs

Mary Ann and Joe Brito of Bradenton are passionate about their work with Cooperative Ministries’ Pack-A-Sack 4 Kids program at Manatee United Methodist Church.  “We just cannot stand the thought of children going hungry,” said Mary Ann.

Two years ago, with the help of Rev. Neil Long (now retired) and his wife, Valene, a Cooperative Ministries Board Member, the Britos led the pilot partnership for the program in Manatee County.

During the school year, the Britos purchase the food in bulk, sort it, assemble the sacks, and deliver the healthy snacks to Manatee Elementary School. “Our congregation supports the program wholeheartedly; I don’t ever have to worry about the funding,” said Mary Ann.

The Britos work closely with Jill Houghland, the school's guidance counselor, who identifies the 15 children who show signs of food insecurity and distributes the sacks to them each week.  The items in their sacks are often the only food the children eat over the weekends. Houghland has shared many stories of what this kindness and support have meant for the children. She told the Britos about one little boy who stayed home one Friday because he was sick, but asked his mother to bring him to school anyway just so he could get his Pack-A-Sack 4 Kids sack. 

Native Floridians born in Miami, the Britos came to Bradenton in 1979 after Joe retired from 20 years in the US Air Force.  He began a second career as an electronics technician, and Mary Ann spent 24 years in the Purchasing Department at Tropicana. They raised four children and have six grandchildren.

The Britos have been committed to serving others all their lives. They have been active members of Manatee UMC for over 30 years, serving in many capacities. Mary Ann is the liaison between the church and Manatee Elementary, coordinating several volunteer programs. She is also the membership secretary and the Angel Food program coordinator.  Joe is active in the United Methodist Men and always around the church working on projects. 

“We like to do what the Lord wants us to do and have always tried to help,” said Mary Ann.  “Now that we are retired, we can do even more!”


Danny*, an honor student from Countryside High School, is in our volunteer spotlight for June.  Since early February, he has been volunteering several afternoons a week in the Families Learning Together Literacy Program.  He works with Director Jan Setzekorn on computer projects and data entry, as well as assembling manuals and other materials used in the many English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program sites. 

Danny knows full well the value of the ESOL program because of the success his mother experienced as a student. He stated that he is very proud of her.

He also said, “Volunteering gives students a way to give back to the community, while gaining real world experience.” Danny plans to use his volunteer hours for credit towards his biggest dream of going to college.

In preparation for that dream, Danny maintains a 3.77 grade point average and a keen interest in Economics. In each of his high school years so far, Danny has been among the 250 Latino students in Pinellas County to be honored with the Dr. Vilma Fernandez-Zalumpski Academic Excellence Award.  Zalumski, the first woman in Florida to be named a community college provost, served for 16 years at the Clearwater Campus of SPC.

*Danny's last name withheld at the request of his parents due to his age.

Helen SweattHelenSweatt_vs

Our spotlight shines down on Helen Sweatt, a St. Petersburg native, as she serves her second (non-consecutive) term as president of the Board of Directors of Cooperative Ministries. Helen first became active on the board over 20 years ago in the early 1990’s while she volunteered for the Producing Academically Successful Students (P.A.S.S.) Tutorial Program at the original Childs Park UMC Church in the Community site.  She has remained on the board, faithfully giving her time, talent and service to the ministry over the years.

“I like the combination of empowering people with education and helping people with immediate needs, such as feeding the homeless," said Helen about her interest in Cooperative Ministries.  “I also believe in churches being involved in missions together: more things can be done by the district as a whole than by individual churches.”

Helen’s love for missions is evident in her years of service and dedication to the United Methodist Church. She is an active member of St. Luke's UMC, St. Petersburg, where she serves as the chairperson of the Outreach Taskforce and is the immediate past president of the United Methodist Women. She has been teaching Sunday School or a Bible Study steadily since the age of 16 and she frequently volunteers with the team from St. Luke's that feeds the homeless once a month as a part of the Doug Brown Street Ministry at the St. Vincent De Paul Food Center.

Helen is also a past vice-president of Florida Conference United Methodist Women and a Certified Lay Speaker for the Conference. She was the vice-chair of the St. Petersburg District's Council on Ministries Work Area of Evangelism.  In her spare time, Helen enjoys reading, art and travelling "when she can!"

A widow, mother of two and grandmother of three, Helen spent 27 years as a Police Officer.  She served many years as the Lieutenant in charge of Youth Services for the City of St. Petersburg.

Kurt SkredeKurtSkrede_vs

The fact that Kurt Skrede grew up living in five different states, plus Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Paraguay, gave him a love of travel and a keen understanding of the importance of being able to communicate with those around you. Kurt’s 10 faithful years of putting that understanding to use as an adult literacy tutor at the Wesley Memorial UMC site has earned him the Volunteer Spotlight honor this month.

Kurt said living in other cultures also gave him an appreciation of how important it is for people to work together. Volunteering has always been an important commitment that has been a part of his life since he was in college.

Kurt said he will never forget when he first started to tutor for Cooperative Ministries. The first night was just a few days before the tragedy of 9/11 and the second, a few days after. “Some things you never forget--where you were and what you were doing,” said Kurt. He also won’t forget one of his first students: a young Asian mother of two small children who was able to pass her cosmetology test after his help and get a good job. “We are helping people who want to better themselves and that is a great feeling,” he added.

Kurt and his bride of three years, Giang (pronounced Yen), live in St. Petersburg with their infant son, Nathan, born in October of 2010. Giang is from Vietnam, but the couple met when Kurt traveled to Singapore where Giang was a tour guide. Giang, a dental assistant, also volunteered in the ESOL computer lab several years ago. Kurt works as a processor with Franklin Templeton Mutual Funds Company. The couple loves to travel, but that is on hold while they are enjoying the miracles of parenthood.

About being an English for Speakers of Other Languages tutor, Kurt stated, “Society would be so much better if everyone would pitch in and do their small part for the betterment of others.”

A Tribute - Jay BeyersdorfJayBeyersdorf_vs


Jay Beyersdorf, one of our most beloved and dedicated tutors, passed away on January 29, 2011 at the age of 74.

Jay began tutoring with Cooperative Ministries in 2005, shortly after his retirement from Kennedy Middle School. In addition to working directly with students, he served as a site coordinator for the ESOL program at Skycrest United Methodist Church.  Through the years, his efforts have helped dozens of students improve their ability to read, speak, and write English.

Jay's life was dedicated to caring for others, both human and animal.  Among the many things he did in his professional and volunteer life: he owned and worked a farm in Wisconsin, served in youth leadership, crusaded against animal abuse, sang in the church choir, worked in schools, and mentored young adults.

Jay is survived by his wife Pamela, as well as three sons, Jeffrey, James and Jesse, and their families.

Jay was a patient and caring man with a passion for helping others succeed.  He will be missed by all of the staff, volunteers, and students who were fortunate enough to know him.

North Pinellas Woman's Club, Inc.NPWC_vs

Members of the North Pinellas Woman’s Club, Inc., a chapter of the General Federation of Women's Clubs International, are in our Volunteer Spotlight.  For the fifth year in a row the chapter has held a Fall Fun Party for the Families Learning Together Program at the Union Street Learning Center. This year parents and children were invited to make a costume, have a costume parade and trick or treat around the party room.

The NPWC received enthusiastic help from members of the GFWC Clearwater Juniorettes, a service club for high school girls sponsored by three area GFWC Woman’s Clubs. The Juniorettes came dressed in costumes and brought crayons, pencils, coloring books, erasers and stickers for special treats. NPWC members supplied candy, home made refreshments, and new books from the Book Fairy project. Randi Canfield provided face painting artistry for the kids as well. Planning for this event was done by Ellen Hoffman, education chair for NPWC; Judy Blanton, lead advisor for GFWC Clearwater Juniorettes; Debbie Struk, NPWC Book Fairy chair; Laurie Auth, 2006 president and Alana MacBain, current NPWC president. 

“The parents and children really got into the act,” said Auth. “We love this project and watching the children enjoy the activities.”

The GFWC International, founded in 1890, is one of the world’s largest volunteer women’s service organizations. The GFWC North Pinellas Woman's Club, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to education and charitable purposes.   The club attends to the diverse needs of the community through hands-on service, funding, education, leadership development and friendship.

Betty AshleyBettyAshley_vs

At 89 years young, Betty Ashley of St. Petersburg exemplifies what it means to live life to the fullest. Betty has been a stellar English Tutor for the past five years at United Methodist Cooperative Ministries/Suncoast‘s Families Learning Together program site at the Children of the World Preschool.

Betty spent over 20 years teaching Home Economics and then Elementary School while raising her eight children in upstate New York. She has found tutoring English to be a very satisfying way to use her skills and interests. “I am so happy that I got involved,” said Betty.

 “I have met a lot of new friends and it kept me going.”  Betty reported that one of the most satisfying experiences with ESOL was helping a woman from Ecuador get her citizenship.

In addition to tutoring, Betty has a passion for exercise: She goes to the Silver Sneakers Class at Lifestyle Family Fitness every morning and to Yoga Class on Friday.  She also enjoys ballroom dancing once or twice a week.

“Betty is a genuine inspiration: I love her attitude and enthusiasm about life,” said Emily Bowen, South District Site Facilitator.  "Volunteers like her are a joy to work with."

Denise TranDeniseTran_vs

Denise Tran, 14, a freshman at Pinellas Park High School, was a volunteer at Children of the World Preschool (CWP) in St. Petersburg for their five-week summer camp program.  In 1999-2000, Denise was a preschool student at the Southeast Asian Preschool that became CWP in 2001. Denise’s parents, Henry and Kimberly Tran, immigrated to the US from Vietnam. Denise was born in Kansas, but her family came to live in Pinellas Park when she was a toddler.  Denise said she wanted to give back to the school that had “made her who she is today.”  “When I came here as a four year old, I could not speak the language and I knew nothing of American culture and social graces," said Denise.  "This school became my second family.  The teachers, volunteers, and other children taught me so much.”

Denise’s younger sister, Tammy, also attended the preschool and now, her little brother, Jacob, 4, is one of the 38 three and four year olds Denise has been working with this summer. Denise has enjoyed getting to know the different personalities of children who come from a dozen different countries. “They are totally different and you have to adapt to each of them,” said Denise. “It is good practice for when I have a family some day.”

When Denise is not volunteering, she loves to be outdoors playing volleyball, biking or walking. She hopes a career in the medical field is in her future, but right now she is just looking forward to high school.

Suzanne Conti


We are so very fortunate to have Suzanne tutoring ESOL students at our Children of the World Preschool site.  From the minute Suzanne participated in our training, she has worked tirelessly to improve her tutoring skills for the students she serves.

But that's not all Suzanne does.  She also helps out at the Children of the World Preschool with interactive story time.  Her artistic skills have helped to create an undersea grotto, a pirate cove, and a jungle, just to name a few.  The children love sitting in her created settings and seeing the stories they love come to life.

Thanks, Suzanne, for sharing your talents with us!

Betsy KenasBetsyKenas_vs

Good communication between United Methodist Cooperative Ministries and United Methodist Churches in the Gulf Central District is necessary for all of us to have the greatest impact on our community through missions.  Ambassadors act as liaisons between our ministries and their church congregations.

Betsy Kenas is one of our most passionate Ambassadors.  She keeps the members of First United Methodist Church, Dunedininformed about our work through her monthly column, "Through the Ambassador's Eyes", in the church newsletter.  She has worked tirelessly to bring new volunteers into our programs and donations to help us grow our ministries.  She makes some wonderful cookies for the kids in PASS, too!

Tutoring as a volunteer in the PASS program is what gives Betsy her passion for this connection.  She says, "I take home the blessing every time I work with the kids. This is how I express God's work through me.  And they sure make me laugh! But most important, I have always loved reading, all kinds of books, and I want to share my love of books and reading with the children. Perhaps by reading to them and listening to them read they will "catch the reading bug" as well and start a lifetime habit of reading not only because it's required in school, but because it's fun!"

Thanks so much, Betsy, for all that you do to keep us connected in mission!