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Local girl proves volunteering is not just for the elderly

Alayna Eldred, 12, serves food to the elderly every Tuesday at the Osakis Community Center. (Osakis Review photo by Leah Stinson)

"Everyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't even have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve... You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A 12-year-old Osakis girl, Alayna Eldred, took these words to heart when she started volunteering at the age of 2.

Alayna's service began with baking cookies with her mother, Sharon Eldred, for the elderly at Terrace Heights in Osakis and she's maintained the theme of attending to the elderly since.

"I like helping the elderly," said Alayna. "It just makes their day; puts a smile on their face."

Sharon has played an integral role in Alayna's history of service. Sharon was the one who introduced Alayna to the world of volunteering at such a young age.

"My mom just wanted me to feel comfortable with the elderly," said Alayna.

Sharon brought Alayna to Terrace Heights, the Osakis Community Center and the Heritage Apartments.

Most of Alayna's service hours are spent at the Community Center, where she generally volunteers at least once a week.

Alayna and Sharon didn't wait for the Community Center to seek them out.

"They're very humble," Sharon said of the Community Center. "They didn't want to ask for help."

But when Sharon and Alayna offered their service, they were warmly welcomed.

Alayna's duties at the Community Center range from dishing food to setting tables to entertaining the elderly.

Sue Stoetzel, the food service manager for Nutrition Services, Inc., realizes how fortunate she is to have Alayna as a volunteer.

"I'm thinking, how did we do without her?" she said about Alayna.

Stoetzel has been working with the Osakis Community Center since 1983. She was prompted to work there after enjoying helping at her church.

"The seniors love Alayna," said Stoetzel as she stood watching senior citizens file into the Community Center.

A total of eight seniors were at the lunch the Community Center served that day - all eight of them have volunteered, many of them at the Community Center, according to Stoetzel.

Stoetzel has noticed younger generations devoting less of their time to volunteering than the senior citizens sitting before her.

Stoetzel acknowledged that the senior citizens who help are limited as to how much time they can devote, which is why they are in such dire need for younger volunteers.

"Alayna's trying to set an example," she said. Like Alayna, she hopes to see younger age groups volunteering.

Fortunately, Alayna's flexible homeschool schedule is conducive to her volunteering schedule. She is able to arrange her schoolwork around volunteering, which is difficult for most children.

She has been homeschooled since the start of her education, and has been successful thus far.

"She's a self-motivator," said Sharon.

Some might not recognize Alayna from her volunteering, but from her legendary dog scooter.

Alayna can be seen trekking around town and on the nearby Central Lakes Trail with her dog, Molly, using a dog scooter. She and her father, Jon, constructed the scooter together as a school project. The scooter allows the dog to work off some energy, and was a fun project for Alayna and her father to collaborate on.

Alayna also golfs, rollerblades and plays tennis in her free time.

Alayna and Sharon don't volunteer to be recognized, though.

"It's not just about Alayna, it's about all the volunteers. All of them make a difference no matter how big or small," Sharon said. She realizes the Community Center really depends on volunteers.

"Some kids think they have to go to Alexandria to volunteer. That's just not true," said Sharon. "There are plenty of opportunities right here in Osakis."

There are fewer than 10 others who volunteer their time and service at the Community Center. "No matter how many people we have, we can always use more," said Sharon.

Alayna plans on volunteering with the elderly through high school and beyond.

"My favorite part is just making them happy," said Alayna. Her heart, full of grace, will continue to make a difference in the Osakis community.