PROP Volunteers Create a Community of Compassion

When PROP was founded more than 50 years ago, it was on the principle of neighbors helping neighbors. It’s a community caring for itself. As PROP has grown and expanded its reach, the importance of its volunteers has grown alongside it. These volunteers dedicate themselves to their community every week, and have strengthened it while doing so.

Judy Bissonett first discovered PROP when was looking for a part time activity, so she replied to their advertisement in the local Eden Prairie newspaper. Now, she has been volunteering for 15 years and loves every minute. “I continue to work at PROP because it’s fun. It’s busy. It’s always interesting. It feels right,” Judy said.

Leslie Stiles moved from Bloomington to Eden Prairie, and learned about PROP when she was volunteering at VEAP. “I decided that volunteering would be a great way to get involved with my new community and meet new people while doing something important to help that community,” Leslie said. She started volunteering at PROP in March of this year, and has no plans to stop anytime soon.

Joanne Finnegan has been volunteering for a year and a half, and discovered PROP through her church, Pax Christi Catholic Church, and its connection to the organization. Beyond that, her family has lived in Eden Prairie for over 30 years. “It’s a good thing to do something for someone else,” Joanne said. I’m retired, so it’s a good time to think of someone other than myself.”

John Paumen also became aware of PROP through the same church. “I was a member of the Justice Grant Board there and PROP was an applicant for a grant. I was assigned to visit PROP with a list of questions from the board,” John said. Additionally, his family has been living in Eden Prairie for 50 years. He ended up joining the volunteer effort at PROP when a neighbor of his recruited him, and John wanted to support the PROP mission. “It seemed like a good fit for me,” John said. He has been volunteering for six years now.

James Ashley landed on the PROP volunteer team after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, and has been volunteering for almost three years. “My volunteer pursuits were driven by an interest in growing food and distributing it to those in need. I grew up farming in southern Illinois helping my grandfather and uncle on their farms. It seemed fitting to me to return to my roots in a way that would be helpful to others,” James said. “Additionally, when our second child was born in 1983 with severe mental and physical disabilities, I was thrust into a new world where individuals are marginalized by society because they look different, act differently and otherwise do not fit the norm. I spent 36 years advocating for my daughter and helped her live the best life possible. When she died in 2020, distributing food to those in need seemed to be a good way to continue helping those who are underprivileged in some way or another.”

These stories represent the many ways volunteers have found their path to PROP. Yet, all of them have similar reasons for continuing their commitment: how PROP brings their community together. Within PROP, volunteers form new relationships with each other, strengthening connections inside and outside of PROP’s doors. “The people at PROP are the reason I continue to work there. The staff, volunteers and clients are like family,” Judy said.

But the main reason these volunteers return is because they understand the increasing importance of their work — and they enjoy supporting their community in this way. “You start to realize that there’s a lot of people that need this help. It’s not because they’ve been careless… it’s about maintaining people’s dignity as they make that first step to get help,” Joanne said.

“I enjoy the camaraderie with the other volunteers and staff and some of the clients,” John said. “There is great satisfaction knowing that we are helping others get through rough times in their lives.”

The consistency of PROP’s volunteer base is what allows the organization to make a change in its community, and PROP will continue to grow in the future. These volunteers have their own hopes for PROP’s growth. “Since the need continues to rise I hope PROP Food can obtain a larger space… Continuing to volunteer is dependent on health and ability, but I am happy just helping out as I can to distribute food to those in need,” James said.

“The need for the help is clearly growing, so my biggest hope is that PROP will be able to find additional space so that it is right-sized for the community,” Leslie said. “My hope is also that clients always feel welcomed and respected when they come to PROP, something that I’ve seen that PROP volunteers are very good at.”

PROP shares in the hopes of these volunteers, and is incredibly thankful for the ways in which its volunteers have shaped their community into one of compassion and selflessness. “PROP has gone through many changes. Always going bigger and better. Always finding ways to reach out to others. I know PROP will continue to do this and I hope to be a part of it,” Judy said. “I can’t change the world, but I can change a life.”





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