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Nikiski woman shows why giving is better than receiving

Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2002

Saying that she just can't out-give God, Nikiski resident Retha Hall decided 20 years ago to be a giver -- to develop a lifestyle of giving -- and God has blessed her over and over again in return.

Because of her decision, Hall volunteers at her church's food pantry, helps out at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center and sorts donated baby clothing at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Kenai.

That's also why she helps an elderly neighbor clean out a shed, sits with a patient at Central Peninsula General Hospital, feeds children through the school breakfast program and digs ditches for someone who needs a ditch dug.

"Years ago, I read a book entitled, 'Try Giving Yourself Away.' The whole book was example after example of doing simple acts of kindness to family, friends and even strangers," Hall said.

"I tried it and found the idea so rewarding that I try to make it an everyday adventure ... with God in control."

Active in the North Kenai Baptist Church community, Hall also is motivated by biblical passages such as Ephesians 2:10, which says, "It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others."

And she says her volunteer work is work that comes from God, quoting 1 Corinthians 1:31, "If anyone is going to boast, let him boast only of what the Lord has done."

"Jesus sets the example, and I want to follow in his footsteps in reaching out with love to people," Hall said.

Born in Charleston, Ark., Hall lived there and in Texas before moving to Ketchikan with her husband, Frankie, in 1972. The couple moved to the Kenai Peninsula three years later.

"My husband loved to hunt and fish, and we were going to come up and make our fortune in Alaska in five years and then go back," she said.

They didn't. They stayed.

Frankie Hall died six years ago, after the couple had been married 33 years.

Retha Hall had worked solely as a homemaker before her husband became ill in 1988. Then, she went to work for a few years at the Nikiski Day Care, employed as a care-giver and preschool teacher.

After Frankie died in December 1996, Hall felt God wanted her to do church or community volunteer jobs.

"I was helping out around the senior center and then in April or May, I was having lunch there and they asked me to begin driving their van," she said.

 

Retha Hall and Naomi Ledet prepare care baskets in the pantry at North Kenai Baptist Church as Ledet's son Conner watches.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"I didn't put out an application or anything. God put the job out there."

Now she goes to work daily as the outreach support representative, making home visits to senior citizens and, if needed, taking them to the bank, to the doctor or to run errands.

But that job isn't the first thing on her list of daily service.

First, Hall is off to the North Star Elementary School, where she heads up the school breakfast program.

One who has picked up the moniker of "The Boss" over the years, because of her aptitude for getting things organized, Hall is responsible for making sure all breakfast supplies are in place each day as breakfast is served to 30 pupils at North Star.

It also is her responsibility to ensure two volunteer workers are on hand at North Star, where she herself is one of those food-service workers every Friday.

After breakfast, she goes to work.

"As the (Nikiski senior center) outreach support representative, I make home visits to seniors to assess their needs," she said.

In addition, if she finds a senior has a need the senior center cannot fulfill, she makes referrals to someone or some agency that can help.

Among services provided by the senior center are daily lunches at the center, Meals on Wheels to five Nikiski seniors at their homes, notary public and income tax help, special speaker programs and recreational activities.

Her job with the center began simply as the driver of the eight-passenger van. Now, although she still drives the van on a substitute basis when needed, she performs her outreach job which is funded through a federal grant.

Hall also volunteers one day a week at the Crisis Pregnancy Center, where she sorts through donated sacks of baby clothing and launders the donated items.

If needed -- if donations are received -- Hall reports to the facility every Thursday afternoon.

Helping at the grade school, senior center and pregnancy center may sound like Hall is being enough of a good Samaritan, but Hall goes one step further.

"The majority of my volunteering is not for organizations, businesses or big functions. Mainly, I volunteer in your everyday situations ... simple chores that people need help with."

 

Retha Hall prepares breakfast at North Star Elementary School before the first student walks through the door on a day last week. The school's breakfast program is one of several places Hall volunteers her time.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Among those more mundane tasks might be sitting with a patient at the hospital, helping an elderly neighbor clean out a storage shed, baby-sitting for a mother of six or gathering clothes and household items for a family that lost its home in a fire.

She also helps out by setting a woman's hair or helping elderly people clip their toenails. She's answered the phone for a family during a time of grief and at times, she's just taken a plate of goodies to someone, "just to say I'm thinking about them."

"A lot of times, I just go visit just to cheer someone up ... to see how they're doing ... to check on them," she said.

"Recently a lady asked if I could help her stretch a quilt. I asked her what was for dinner and she asked if halibut would be OK.

"I like putting cheer and laughter in their lives," Hall said. "God has been so good to me, I just want to pass on that goodness."

One of the most rewarding volunteer experiences Hall remembers is one that took place nearly five years ago.

"A homeless woman called our church saying she wanted some help. She was not an unintelligent woman. She was just having a tough time making ends meet."

"She had come by a piece of land and had two little buildings that could be made into a home with some work.

Hall organized a garage sale for the woman raising nearly $3,000 and, coupled with a grant, the woman was able to have electricity, gas and sewer services run to her property.

"We had to dig ditches, tear out old Sheetrock, and we fixed up a place for her to stay.

"I didn't do this alone. There were a lot of other people who helped.

"It was probably the most rewarding thing I'd ever done because of the results, you could actually see ... seeing how the community got together and cooperated."

Someone else in the Nikiski area seems to agree, as evidenced by an election-campaign type sign recently reported to Hall. It read, "Vote Retha Hall, Garage Sale Queen."

One of Hall's earlier ventures into the construction trades came 17 years ago when her church was being built in Nikiski.

"I helped build it. I put up shingles and cut out the bottom frames of the doorways by hand," she said.

"That's actually when I got the name 'Boss Lady.' I was the one who knew where things were."

That talent may come from being a lifelong homemaker and mother of four daughters, now all grown.

Some of the volunteerism trait also may have been passed along to the oldest daughter, LaRissa Silva, 35. She and her husband currently are serving as international relief workers in Western Europe.

Daughter Tonya Buczkowski, 31, is a speech pathologist who lives in Eagle River.

The next oldest, Shanda Kitchens, 23, lives with her family in Soldotna and works as a financial analyst for Heritage Place.

The youngest, Contessa Wolverton, 20, like mom, is a stay-at-home homemaker living in Soldotna.

With a smile, Hall also said she has six grandchildren. That smile may reveal why Hall says she is most comfortable working as a volunteer with preschool children.

Having begun her long tenure of volunteerism in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, she has taught preschoolers in Sunday school for about 31 years.

She's quick to add, though, that she also enjoys her work with seniors.

"When I go out to visit seniors, they've got stories to tell ... many about how it was when they first moved up (to Alaska).

 

Retha Hall, constantly on the move, pulls a cart of food back to storage after helping to serve breakfast at North Star Elementary School last week. The school is one of several places she volunteers her time.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"Most of them are just so lovable," she said.

Asked what she does if she encounters someone who simply doesn't want her help, Hall said, "I usually tell them I feel this is a gift of God -- the gift of ministry -- and if they refuse, they're causing me to miss a blessing."

And, how long will she continue doing volunteer service work?

"I'll keep doing it 'til God calls me home, or 'til I need volunteers to come to me," she said.

"It's too much fun to quit. It's God working through me that makes me want to do these things. Because I have sought to have God in my life, he has supplied and has blessed in my life."



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