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TIME TO SPARE? HELP HERNANDO

The United Way is looking for volunteers for a variety of programs.

Jim Fremin is in his second go-around with fatherhood, and finding fulfillment and joy in it.

The 63-year-old retiree from Spring Hill is a mentor at Fox Chapel Middle School with Volunteer Hernando, sponsored by United Way of Hernando County. He meets with kids in need of adult contact, most with divorced parents, Fremin says. He plays cards and board games with them, eats lunch with them. It's not a tutoring program, he says. It's friendship and confidence building.

The United Way is looking for more volunteers like Fremin, with different interests and skills. To drum up interest, the organization will stage a rally from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 8 to talk about volunteer opportunities.

Volunteer Hernando has had as many as 300 people on its roster and wants to give it a boost. "People move, something happens," said Kathy Jones, interim executive director of United Way of Hernando.

"Volunteers are placed in different agencies and schools," according to their interests and skills, she explained. "We match up volunteers with needs in the community." Agencies register with their needs.

Hospice needs patient visitors; the literacy council needs readers and teachers; Junior Achievement wants judges for student contests; the Jerome Brown Community Center needs help preparing meals and delivering toys; the Cancer Society needs drivers to get patients to appointments. And there are volunteer positions with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Jones said, citing a few examples.

Since Volunteer Hernando - a partnership of the United Way and Leadership Hernando, a program of the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce - was launched in 2004, Jones recalls only one request for help it couldn't fill. The city of Brooksville wanted someone to count cars for a traffic study. It would have been a great opportunity for a teenager looking for community service hours and a good suntan, Jones said.

As for the mentoring program at Fox Chapel Middle School, nine others have joined Fremin in the endeavor.

"I do see a difference," Fremin said. A boy who wouldn't look him in the eye - "Now he shakes hands; he can't wait for school to start up again."

The middle schooler confided to Fremin that he yearned to be a Navy SEAL. Fremin got a book on the subject from the library and loaned it to the boy. "I told him to be a Navy SEAL he has to be outgoing and have a good handshake."

Fremin, father of a 40-year-old son and a 37-year-old daughter, and grandfather of three, plays the card game Uno with his protege. "He wins a game and he laughs. Look at this old guy and he can't do it," Fremin said.

Other kids gather around and ask how they can get mentors, he said.

Fremin's only experience with kids is his own family. He is a retired central office technician from New York Telephone. It doesn't take a teaching or counseling degree to do what he does.

Nothing is difficult about his three-year avocation here, he said. "It's about dedicating an hour a week."

United Way is seeking volunteers for another outreach, its Volunteer Reception Center, which opens in response to a natural disaster, Jones said.

"We go wherever Jean Rags (director of health and human services for Hernando County) tells us," Jones said. "We set up a reception center to help with a disaster. Those who want to help come to us, and we match their skills with needs."

The need may be to clear downed trees or distribute ice or provide a liaison to families back home for crew members who come from out of state.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

FAST FACTS

If you go

The United Way's rally for its Volunteer Hernando program and the Volunteer Reception Center will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 8 The rally will take place at United Way headquarters at 4042 Commercial Way (next to IHOP) in Spring Hill. For those who cannot attend the rally but want to volunteer, call the United Way at 688-2026.

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