Robin Balke believes supporting your community takes more than joining a Facebook group.
“There is so much to do if people choose to make the effort to get involved,” she said.
If anyone knows about the value of plugging into your community, it is Balke, whose calendar is so full of events, activities and fundraisers that her friends joke that they have to schedule lunches with her two weeks in advance.
When not fulfilling her responsibilities as a risk and safety manager for IMKO Workforce Solutions, Balke is supporting agencies and groups throughout the area. She is a board member for the Human Resource Management Association of West Central Missouri, Sedalia Business Women and DeFeet.org, a local mental health awareness and suicide prevention group. She’s a mentor for the Pettis County Youth Drug Court program and part of Sarah Rea’s Wanting Improvement Now (WIN) for a Drug-free Community effort. Balke also has lent a hand for NoBro Art Events, Child Safe, Boys and Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri, Bothwell’s annual Lub Dub 5K, United Way of Pettis County, First United Methodist Church’s “Night to Shine” event and the Pettis County Community Partnership.
“Nine times out of 10 if someone asks, I will help … if I have the time,” she said. “There have been many times where I have had to say ‘no’ to organizations that have asked me to join, whether it is a civic group or a nonprofit, because I only have so much time. I try to keep my focus to things that are important to me or speak to me on some level.”
Balke’s community efforts started six years ago, as her son was graduating high school and ready to attend the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. As she wondered what would fill the time previously spent on sports, show choir and other school and church activities, a friend suggested the Youth Drug Court because it has difficulty finding women to mentor teenage girls in the program. After that, she would see notices for upcoming events and reach out to organizers.
“Nobody turns down free help. Once you start getting involved in those things and get to know people … they will ask you to come back and help with another event,” Balke said.
While she has connected with many groups in different ways, some of Balke’s most meaningful efforts come from her work with DeFeet.org.
“When it comes to mental health, a lot of people don’t like to talk about it or they feel they can’t because of the stigma,” she said. “When you present yourself as a safe person to talk to, to open up to, to listen without judgment … for someone to say, ‘I’m so glad I opened up to you because I don’t think I could have with anyone else,’ or ‘I afraid of what that would have led me to’ – It makes such a huge impact on your life and it gives you motivation to want to continue and get more people involved.”
People regularly approach Balke and ask how they can get involved in the community or ask what groups she would suggest they connect with.
“I rarely will tell them, ‘I think you should join this,’ or ‘I think you should do that,’” she said. “I want that to come from their heart because they are more apt to stick with it if it is something they have decided to do for themselves to help others.”
Instead, Balke offers three steps for people to consider:
• What are you passionate about? What speaks to you?
• What do you have to offer? Will you donate your time, your effort, some specific skills, financial assistance or do you have a network of colleagues who can come together for a cause?
• What is your level of commitment? Are you interested in supporting a once-a-year event or are you looking to do something more regularly?
Each community group or event has a separate purpose and audience, but all have the ability to bring people together and make them feel valued. For some, being part of just one program or entity gives them purpose and an identity.
“There are so many things that happen in this community that allow that to happen,” Balke said. “With the pandemic and so many people confined at home, that sense of belonging is really crucial to a person’s mental health and well-being.”
She also stressed that if everyone picked just one thing to plug into, all groups would have the support they need.
While Balke has built a reputation as a “go-to” volunteer, she also has learned to say “no” to protect her personal time. Even then, she will help “connect the dots” to link volunteers or assets to groups seeking assistance. She has developed a three-word personal motto: “Happy to help.”
“That truly describes me,” she said. “I am truly happy to help people in whatever small way that might be.”