BY LURAH LOWERY | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about the United Way of Bristol, the agencies it funds and the people they help. BRISTOL, Tenn. — Volunteering is a way that many people give back to their communities, but for Ruth Dobrovolc, it’s also helped her deal with grief. Dobrovolc and her husband, Ed, were married for 61 years before he died in October 2013. The couple had a passion for volunteering and soon after her husband’s death, Dobrovolc continued that passion by helping out at United Way of Bristol. “I get pleasure out of helping people,” she said. “I’ve always been out [working] with the public.”

Ten years ago, she began volunteering with her husband at United Way. Then they began helping other organizations and were so busy that the United Way staff lost touch with them until they found out about Ed Dobrovolc’s death. “We sent her a card in the mail and a day or two later she stopped by and she’s been coming back ever since,” said Lisa Cofer, executive director of United Way of Bristol. “She thinks that we have given her a place to go, but what she has given back to us is far more than that.” Cofer said that Dobrovolc puts off spending time with her family and friends to help out at the agency and she considers the United Way staff — Cofer, Lorie Bradley and Debbie Helton — to be her daughters.

Dobrovolc, 80, said she volunteers to give back to the community and because when she grew up her family was very poor. “There was six of us, we lived in a country house with no electricity, no running water and we had to work our tails off,” she said. “I see these people nowadays that come in here and want everything, but don’t want to do anything to get it back and I think someone actually needs to be in that position to be able to do the right thing — not to expect everything but try to help get their acts together.” The theme of the Bristol United Way’s annual fundraising campaign this year is “The Power of Caring…The Power of Us!” and the goal is $1.425 million.

As of last week, the campaign had raised more than $700,000. United Way of Bristol has 28 partnerships with local agencies that help people, including the Boys and Girls Club of the Mountain Empire, Bristol Regional Speech and Hearing Center, Abuse Alternatives and the Bristol Life Saving Crew. Dobrovolc exemplifies the type of volunteer needed to make the United Way and its agencies work, Cofer said. “We really depend on volunteers in order to be able to do the work that we do in the community,” she added. Dobrovolc said she’d volunteer as many as five days a week, if asked. “I know if I don’t come up here I won’t go anywhere,” she said. “My daughter comes up on the weekend and we go to church, but that’s it. The kids are here, but they’ve got their own lives.” When she’s in the office, she helps in a number of ways, like helping to prepare food, set up for meetings, answer calls and help with letters. The help, Bradley said, is a godsend. Dobrovolc cared for her husband for five years.

After his death, she not only grieved but didn’t know what to do with her time. “With any caregiver, when the loved one passes they really just don’t know what to do with themselves,” Bradley said. “It’s very quiet and Ruth’s not the type of person to just sit and not do anything. She’s into everything. When all of a sudden you don’t have anything to do and no place to go, your world’s turned upside down.” Dobrovolc encourages her friends to volunteer because she believes no one should sit alone and think about all of their ailments and problems. “If more people would get their minds squared away this world would be a whole lot better,” she said. “I’m a busy lady and I continue to be.” To read this article in its complexity. Click here.

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