Susan came to the Adirondack mountains in 1998, soon after the ice storm, to teach English as a second language at Paul Smith's college.
At the time, the college had a program for Japanese students, and Susan had spent 30 years living in Tokyo, where all three of her kids were born. She had taught English as a second language in Japan and later received a master's degree in applied linguistics.
She came to teach at Paul Smith's, but the International Student Program ended three years later. However, by then, Susan had fallen in love with the Adirondack's lush green forests, lakes and mountains, and decided to stay.
(Photo —Yvona Fast)
She worked at the Crisis Center, and then became coordinator of volunteers for ComLinks. Today, she works as coordinator of volunteers for two non-profit agencies, High Peaks Hospice and Literacy Volunteers.
Susan said she enjoys helping people.
"I love discovering what people like to do and hooking them up with a need," she said. "People tell me what they like to do. When I can hook up people with their passion, it excites me. It's fun!"
Susan is also a volunteer herself. "I have been volunteering in the state prison system for five years," she said. "Initially, I went in to teach English as a second language. It grew from there, and I have taught parenting, self-awareness and relationship courses. I've also helped in the chapel while Chaplain Eric Olsen is with the National Guard."
Some people are reluctant or afraid to go into the prisons, but not Susan.
"I walked into the prison that first day, and I knew that's where I was supposed to be," she said. "I have never been disrespected in the prison. The guys are not only respectful, they're thankful. It's an inspiring place.
"Through my church, Adirondack Community, I've also gotten involved in hunger issues," she added.
At the beginning of the year, her church began a fundraiser, "Hunger SOS - Food for Thought." Through a monthly dinner of homemade soup and bread and water, they raise funds for various projects.
Topics have included Jambo Jipya, a school in Kenya; refugees; water; solar ovens; and deforestation. Last month, the beneficiary was the Ecumenical Charity Foundation, which runs the Lake Placid Food Pantry and thrift shop. The topic for November will be urban hunger.
"This is very important because food costs have risen exorbitantly due to rising corn and wheat prices," Susan said. "Everyone who comes to the dinner gives $10 toward the cause. Our goal was to raise $1,000 each month, but the first month we raised $3,000. People are seeing the need and giving generously from their hearts."
Susan also enjoys working with volunteers.
"Hospice is a wonderful place to work; the volunteers are amazing," she said. "And at Literacy Volunteers, we depend on volunteer tutors.
"Hospice is for everyone, and no one is charged money if they have no insurance. We encourage people to stay at home, if possible, and have nurses and home health aides to help. Our trained volunteers sit with the patient, giving respite to the caregiver so they can do errands. This is especially important in our area, since many older people here don't have family nearby. Hospice also provides grief and bereavement counseling, and supports the surviving family for one year."
Susan's work with Literacy Volunteers involves many community projects.
"In addition to basic literacy, GED and TOEFEL, we teach job skills and offer vocational support," she said. "The international community here includes visiting scientists at Trudeau Institute, the international sports connection through the Olympic training facility, and young kids from other countries working at area hotels, so there is a need to teach English."
Other LVA projects include Roo the Kangaroo, a puppet who visits schools and libraries to get kids excited about reading. At the prisons, LVA trains inmates to mentor other inmates in their reading and GED skills.
"This year, in cooperation with Adirondack Community Church, we began an exciting program. We're collecting gently used children's books from individuals and libraries," Susan said. "These books are given to children visiting their fathers in prison. The inmates often go for years without seeing their kids, so it's a rare and special occasion. The program places small packages in the visitors' room at the prison. Included is a Roo activity book, coloring book and a small box of crayons for each visiting child. When they're ready to leave, they get to choose a book to keep. It is something pleasant for the long bus ride home, encouraging them to read, with information about literacy for family members.
"We've collected more than 300 books, so we're extending this project to the local food pantries," Susan said. "Families picking up food will also receive something special for their kids.
"There is so much volunteer work you can do in this community. It's so rewarding. Many tell me, 'I could never do that' (work with dying patients in hospice or inmates at a prison). I say 'It is a calling. You don't know how rewarding it is until you try. I believe that God has tasks in mind for me in this world. However humble, we are each given gifts. When we find that we are in the right place, doing the right thing, we are energized. Feeling useful in the world and serving God's purpose is what it's all about for me."