After more than 40 years teaching music and choir, Anita Kowalski hasn’t missed a beat in retirement. Nowadays you’ll find her making a difference by volunteering her time at several organizations around town.
April is National Volunteer Month, which is the perfect time to salute people like Anita who give so much to their communities.
Taking a page out of the book by 103-year-old Sister Jean, of Loyola fame, Anita says it’s important to wake up each day with a purpose. Volunteering is one of many things that helps her do that.
Kowalski taught for 27 years with Southwest Allen County Schools, mostly Summit Middle School. After retiring in 2015, she spent two years teaching music at St. Therese School in Waynedale.
Her first foray into volunteering was at the Literacy Alliance, which she says helped light the volunteering fire for her. “The fact that I would be helping adults get their high school diploma was something that tugged at my teaching heart,” she said. “When I fully retired, I started adding more.”
Kowalski discovered the Volunteer Center in Fort Wayne and that really got the ball rolling. “Their website is awesome,” she said. “It’s amazing how many opportunities there are.”
The Volunteer Center acts as a matchmaker between people looking to volunteer their time and local non-profits and civic organizations in need of help.
On Tuesday mornings, you’ll find her at the Audio Reading Service, A Department of the Allen County Public Library on DiSalle Blvd. Anita and her partner Mary read that day’s edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette for people who have visual, physical, learning, or language challenges to independent reading.
“I found out about it through the Volunteer Center,” she said. “I was fascinated because I didn’t know it existed at all.”
Georgeann Johnson-Coffey, Manager of the Audio Reading Service says Anita and Mary are two of more than a hundred volunteers who give their time for this vital service. “We are definitely the eyes and ears to our listeners. We get a lot of feedback, especially from our listeners who are blind, that we are their main source of connecting to the outside world. People like Anita, who have a passion for what they want to give their time to, are invaluable to our community.”
The library’s Audio Reading Service broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and reaches an estimated 36,000 individuals.
A few times a month you’ll find Anita at the Lutheran Hospital Gift Shop. “The main reason was the proceeds go to the Hope’s Harbor House,” she said. “They provide housing for families who have an ill child in the hospital. No one is ever turned away. I just thought that was such a wonderful cause.”
Not all of Anita’s volunteering efforts are for a deep cause. Every other Thursday you’ll find her at the Fort Wayne International Airport answering busy traveler’s questions and handing out delicious Ellison Bakery cookies when flights arrive.
“Every volunteer opportunity is different,” she says. “This one is just fun. It brings a smile to people’s faces. Occasionally, I’ll run into a former student and they recognize me and there are hugs and that kind of thing, but this is just a fun gig.”
Anita also volunteers at the Embassy Theatre and even helps out at the Volunteer Center!
“It’s the variety I love,” she says. “I love meeting people and every one of them is a learning experience as far as I’m concerned. That’s important to me, to keep learning on a daily basis.”
It’s easy to see why Anita Kowalski is Positively Fort Wayne!