It Takes a County
Good Living in Hard Times Part 2

by Sallyann Murphey
courtesy photo

The tire made a noise like gunshot and sent pieces of itself spinning off into the night. “What was that?” Cara asked at the other end of the end of the phone. “I think it was my wheel,” I said, as I persuaded my elderly van to limp to the side of the road. “I’ll be right there…” she replied, ignoring my protests about calling Triple AAA.

And so it was that she and I found ourselves wedged between two cars on the side of State Road 46 one damp Thursday night, waiting for the wrecker to arrive. As we stood talking, other cars pulled over at regular intervals, stopping to see what they might do to help. “That’s one of the reasons I love living in Indiana,” I told Cara, who had given up her evening to keep me safe, “people still make time for total strangers.”

It is also one of the qualities, in my opinion, that will get Hoosiers through the Great Recession: the understanding that helping others can be one of the best ways of helping yourself. Cara Zogorski, for instance, is a single mother of four with several jobs who still finds 8 to 10 hours a month to volunteer as a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)—a special advocate for children who need someone to represent their best interests and speak for them in court, often in cases of abuse or neglect. It can be heartbreaking work, but as Cara puts it, “these children need someone and to be a voice for that child—to be a support system, a role model—sometimes when they have no one else. They bring as much into my life, as I bring into theirs.”

That was exactly what Donna Niednagel must have hoped for when she started the program in Brown County. Donna is a local legend. For the past twenty years, she has worked tirelessly for the children of our region, shepherding some 1600 young people through the court system, fighting for their best interests every step of the way. She’s a tiny woman, but if you believe people in the local community, she has shoes the size of oil tankers. This April, she “retired”—which is a euphemism for stepping down as Director of the Guardian Ad Litem in order to work harder for the Community Network, a collaboration of community representatives who pool their resources to satisfy needs in the county. Donna is on the Transit Committee, which developed (and found funding for) Access Brown County, a public transportation program. It’s a simple idea. People call to book a ride 24-hours ahead that will take them to work, school, the doctor’s—wherever they need to go—for a ticket price of $3.50. The service is much needed in a county that lost its bus and rail service after World War II. Now it’s up and running, she is turning her attention to the problem of affordable housing. “It’s difficult for young people starting out to find affordable homes,” she explains, “particularly with last year’s flooding and loss of apartments. I am very interested in that.” Donna has worked for her community all her life. “Volunteering has brought meaning, purpose, and joy, and recognition that only by working together can we make this a better world for our children and grandchildren,” she explains.

Bob Oliger, another GAL, would add that it is also a great way to learn things. He began his volunteer career with Habitat for Humanity, another active organization in Brown County that partners with families to build decent affordable homes, which they can then buy for no-interest mortgages. Bob joined them because he wanted to learn more about construction. He stayed because of the people. “One of the neat things about volunteering,” he says, “is that you’re working with people who want to be there.” Bob made one of his best friends in Brown County working with Habitat. Today, in addition to being a Guardian Ad Litem, he coaches softball, volunteers at the St Vincent De Paul Society (which provides food, clothing and furniture to those in need), and serves on the Long-Term Recovery Committee for Flood Victims.

This multi-level volunteering is not unusual in Brown County. Many people work for more than one organization. Our county prosecutor, Jim Oliver, for instance, is a baseball coach, soccer coach, cub scout master, and is on the board of directors for Mother’s Cupboard, a community kitchen that provides free hot meals every evening from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. When Jim first started cooking there ten years ago, they would serve around twelve dinners on a Sunday. Today, they are up to eighty to ninety meals that day—a figure that will probably continue to grow until the economy gets better. The majority of the money for the kitchen comes from individual donations, which have not slowed down in recent months. “People recognize the need is greater now,” Jim says. They also get funding from local organizations like the Lions Club, which raises money for many different causes. Jim is a former President and passionate member who is proud of the work they do. The pancake breakfasts, the fruit sales, the popcorn at the Playhouse, the Spring Blossom Parade, all raise more than $20,000 a year for scholarships and community events like the July 4th fireworks—which this writer would argue is one of the best displays in the state. “I volunteer,” Jim explains, “because I look around and see things that need to be done and I believe that if I see something is important enough to be done—I need to do it.”

So next time you’re standing on the corner of Main Street on a Saturday morning, look more carefully at the people around you. That woman with the book under her arm may be a member of the Literacy Coalition rushing off to help a young person with their reading; or that guy swinging a leash may be on his way to the Humane Society to help walk the dogs in their care. There are so many ways to help and when you do—whether it is in Brown County or the community you come from—you will discover what people like Cara, Donna, Bob and Jim have known all along: that you are the one that will get the most from whatever you’re able to give.

If you live in Brown County and are interesting in learning more about these organizations, here is their contact information:
The Brown County Guardian Ad Litem:
(812) 340-8894 <>
Habitat for Humanity: 812-988-8014
Lions Club:
Long-term Recovery Flood Committee:
(812) 988-9622
Mother’s Cupboard: (812) 988-8038
St Vincent de Paul Society: (812) 988-8821/8509