Jane Stein, the president of Bridges Community Resource Network’s board of directors, stands for a portrait at the organization’s office Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. Stein, a longtime volunteer in the community, was recognized for her service at the annual Industry Appreciation Day with the Donald E. Gilman Award for community, governmental and civic service from the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Practical matters

Figuring out solutions to practical needs has been a major drive in Jane Stein’s life.

For example, she is excited about a new copy machine coming to the Bridges Community Resource Network office. It’s not that the old one has too much of a problem — it’s more a matter of practicality. They’re planning to share the new one with Hospice of the Central Peninsula, the organization Bridges shares an office with. They’ll split the costs on the new copy machine and get about the same amount of use out of it.

In another incident, she almost didn’t go to the annual Industry Appreciation Day in Kenai this year — though she has always gone, the ground is uneven, and at 84, falling can be a huge inconvenience.

“But then I thought, you can’t let your body dictate what you can and can’t do,” she said.

If she hadn’t gone, she would have missed the ceremony in which she was awarded the Donald E. Gilman Award for volunteer of the year in community, governmental and civic affairs. She didn’t know about the award ahead of time, though it occurred to her as she was walking up to the stage, “oh, those sound like things I’ve done!”

The commendation before the reward, read by Borough Mayor Mike Navarre at the celebration held Aug. 26, notes Stein’s ongoing volunteer efforts and her nickname — “the Energizer Bunny.”

“This Soldotna/Kenai area is very fortunate to have this person as a community member who lights up a room with an unmistakable smile,” the introduction read. “This person puts their heart into everything they do and truly cares about others without expectation of compensation.”

All three adjectives attached to the award apply to her extensively. Besides serving for about a decade on Soldotna City Council and on the Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board, she’s volunteered with a dozen or more organization on the central Kenai Peninsula over the years, currently serving as president of the Bridges Community Resource Network board and actively volunteering with the Central Peninsula Hospital Auxiliary.

Bridges serves as a parent nonprofit for community organizations trying to become their own nonprofits, accepting donations for them and allowing their operations to be tax deductible while they get off their feet. The organization doesn’t do any advertising, operating entirely off word-of-mouth, Stein said, but has had the opportunity to help groups ranging from high school sport booster clubs to the annual Project Homeless Connect and Matti’s Farm in Kenai.

She and a group of other women founded the organization in the mid-1990s to help fill a need and have watched it grow over the years, she said. But volunteering in various capacities has always been part of her life, starting with 4-H before she went to college at Purdue University in Indiana.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with fabulous people,” she said. “…I’ve always volunteered. It’s a major part of my life, through my church, (et cetera).”

She spent her career teaching home economics, primarily in San Diego public schools. Though home economics isn’t taught as extensively in high schools as it once was, Stein argues that the subject carried a lot of science and math applications — including nutrition for infants and mathematics for scaling cooking recipes as well as practical knowledge, like sewing clothing. The classes included real-life skills, and she worked with many at-risk and non-English speaking students over the years, she said.

“I retired from teaching in 1988, I am still hearing from those students, and now they are grandparents and retired, that sort of thing,” she said.

Enumerating her experiences takes a densely packed, single-space sheet — a resume she built several years ago is packed from top to bottom with awards, volunteer service, advisory positions and professional affiliations. As well as executing high-level needs, like coordinating nonprofit donations through Bridges or fundraising campaigns through United Way, she has contributed to simple practical needs, like delivering hot towels at Central Peninsula Hospital or driving vans at the Kenai River Classic event.

“(I fill needs) as the need rises, what I’m hearing back from the community,” she said.

She and her husband moved to Alaska permanently in 1989, following her daughter Kathy Gensel, who is now the foundation director of the Central Peninsula Health Foundation, a charity organization tangential to Central Peninsula Hospital that raises money to support patients and kids on the central peninsula. The two work together often, Stein said.

“My grandmother was this kind of woman, and my mother was this kind of woman,” she said with a laugh.

The Kenai Peninsula has a host of involved volunteers — it’s encouraging to see them heping at Central Peninsula Hospital Auxiliary and other events around town, she said. However, one issue in the community is the need for volunteers to serve on the boards of organizations, she said.

“That’s really what we’re seeing happening within the community,” she said. “(It can be hard for) to commit to going to one meeting every month … We should be concerned about what’s happening within our community.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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