Northport woman lends helping hand to Leelanau children
It goes on to tell visitors that the lawn needs to be mowed and the garden is getting weedy. And chances are good that someone will come forward and give up a couple hours of their time to get the work done.
That someone may just be JoAnn Sahs, who has been volunteering at the center for about six years. Sahs comes in every Wednesday afternoon for a couple of hours to take care of children during a staff meeting. Her duties include keeping an eye on children while they nap, supervising their play, especially in the center’s expansive outdoor area, and occasionally kissing boo-boos.
“I go wherever they need me,” Sahs said. “I do whatever needs to be done. It’s basically keeping the children entertained and safe. It’s very fun.”
Sahs also helps out with Northport Promise fundraisers, especially now that her grandchildren are moving into the Northport school system, she said. And she occasionally volunteers with the Leelanau Food Pantry.
“But this is my main focus,” Sahs said. “My main love is kids.”
Having earned her teaching degree from Western Michigan University, Sahs taught children with learning disabilities in the Bangor Township Schools district in Bay County for three years before moving to Leelanau County. She moved to Northport in 1975 when she got engaged and taught at a cooperative day care for about two years. She retired about six or seven years ago from Northport Building Supply and Ace Hardware, of which she was a co-owner.
Three of her grandchildren live in Northport and she helps out by getting them off to day care, school or to the Children’s Center every morning.
“People saw me coming every day and they asked me if I wanted to volunteer on Wednesday,” she said. “I’m here every day dropping kids off. I get to be with them when they start their day.”
In addition to coming in regularly so staff members can have their weekly meeting without being interrupted to change a diaper or get a child drink of water, volunteers read to children, help out with carnivals and other fundraisers, plant gardens, fix broken chairs, paint, and give children science lessons, sometimes bringing in animals to make the lesson hands-on.
The center has two classrooms and takes children from age 1 and walking to kindergarten entry. There are nine staff members, five of whom are teachers, including Claudia Retta, who has been with the center for five years.
“It would be really hard without volunteers,” Retta said. Volunteers, she said, allow teachers to spend their time teaching.
“We always need extra hands. We really want to give the best of us to the kids. If something breaks the hand of the volunteer is needed. It’s a big difference having the volunteers around.”
Sahs calls the center a haven for children and said that while volunteers help out immensely, the teachers and staff would do a great job no matter what.
“It’s such a wonderful place,” Sahs said. “Everybody should visit it.”