OTTUMWA — A few extra minutes in an otherwise tight schedule allowed Gov. Terry Branstad to see more of Ottumwa than anyone expected.
The governor and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds came to Ottumwa to honor some of the top volunteers in southeast Iowa on Friday. They included people of all ages and backgrounds who, Reynolds said, have a servant heart.
One example of a younger volunteer was Justice Parcel, a teenager who serves as a mentor for youngsters at Iowa Kids University in Ottumwa. Justice knew of the group through his association with its predesesor, Big Brother Big Sisters.
Sue Huff, director of both groups, said he started as a "little," one of the clients served by the agency.
"I've had him since he was in second grade," said Huff.
When he graduated from the program, he immediately began volunteering.
"Not only that, he recruits for me; he'll gather a carload of friends and come down to volunteer," Huff said.
At the 30th annual Governor's Volunteer Awards, there was not time to share each story. Though these were only the top volunteers in the region, "every year, we recognize more and more," Branstad said.
Reynolds said volunteerism has benefits to those being helped, as well as those who see how valuable volunteering could be if they, too, got involved. She added that it makes good financial sense, too, as volunteers tackle issues like literacy, disaster response and community development.
"I'd like to challenge you to ask [family], friends, co-workers and neighbors, 'What's your 50?'" Branstad told the crowd at St. John Auditorium on the Indian Hills main campus.
The concept is to get every Iowan to contribute 50 hours per year to an organization dedicated to improving the lives of others. The volunteers before the governor Friday, he said, "contribute a lot more than 50 hours."
Organizers of the award ceremony said hosting the event actually required volunteers, too. One of the larger groups helping were students from the Ottumwa Job Corps Center. A local official also listed several positive things about Ottumwa, and when he mentioned that he had recently toured the Job Corps center, both Branstad and Reynolds seemed interested.
When they announced they would take an unscheduled tour of the campus in an hour, a couple of Job Corps staff members looked excited (and a bit surprised) as they grabbed cell phones to start making calls to the center as well as, presumably, the regional Department of Labor office in charge of the program.
The center is right across the street from IowaWorks, the offices out by the Ottumwa Regional Airport that help Iowans find employment. Job Corps and the workforce development office work together to get the students on a productive path. The executive branch surprised officials again when they said they'd stop at the local IowaWorks site, too, in addition to the scheduled tour of Indian Hills.
The college, the workforce center and Job Corps are co-located, allowing students to learn job skills, then get help finding appropriate work.
Linda Rouse, Iowa Workforce Development regional director, said the testing program caught the governor's interest. The career readiness certificate allows job candidates to show employers they have the right skills to work; that's good for workers and businesses, she said.
"We talked about NCRC testing, which we do in our center as well as the Indian Hills Success Center for [other] locations," she said. "They got to see testing going on as well as a computer workshop while they were here. You'd be surprised how many jobs now require some type of computer skills. Some people who haven't been around them are intimidated by computers. Just about every position nowadays requires some use of a computer."
Though they've hosted classes on Excel spreadsheets for business and Power Point for making presentations, the most basic education is helpful, too.
"We'e done classes on Word with basic keyboarding and [demonstrating use of] a mouse," said Rouse. "We try to help them alleviate that fear of the computer, make them feel more comfortable."
They also work closely with students from Job Corps, something Rouse told the governor. While Iowa Workforce Development is a state entity, Job Corps is federal. Branstad and Reynolds felt it was worth a visit anyway.
"Job Corps provides very important training for young people," Branstad said after the award ceremony. "We're going to encourage them to continue what they are doing. I have employers all the time telling me they have positions available but no one with the skill sets to fill those jobs."
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.