“A powerful advocate.”
“A shining example of living with dignity and purpose.”
These statements are a small sample of glowing remarks ascribed to Mary Jo Bousek in her nomination for the 2018 AARP Andrus Award for Community Service. The award recognizes outstanding volunteers who share their experience, talents and skills to enrich the lives of others. Bousek, a resident at Grand Lodge at the Preserve retirement community in Lincoln, Nebraska, was ultimately chosen as a recipient.
Bousek’s recognition was 25 years in the making. In 1993, she joined the volunteer team at Matt Talbot Kitchen & Outreach, a nonprofit organization that serves Lincoln’s working poor and homeless population through outreach, advocacy, education, and the provision of food and shelter. She quickly rose through the ranks and became a team captain overseeing meal services. Since then, she’s helped supply more than 100,000 meals to those in need.
“I’ve been very blessed with a good family and a comfortable life, so paying it forward is the least I can do,” said Bousek, who views her community service as part of God’s work. She was admittedly caught off-guard by her good fortune. “Where have I been all my life?” she joked. “To tell you the truth, I’d never heard of the award before I received it. I was surprised, but very pleased.”
At 81, Bousek’s commitment to the cause is unwavering. In addition to providing meals, she helps raise funds and recruit sponsors for Matt Talbot’s annual Huskers Helping the Homeless fundraising initiative. The endeavor, currently in its 22nd year, is held in partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Bousek also distributes sack lunches through the local Catholic Social Services organization and is active in the Lincoln Senior Chorus, which performs regularly at area skilled nursing communities.
“Mary Jo’s volunteer service deflates any excuse for not serving your community,” explained Victoria O’Neil, Matt Talbot’s coordinator of volunteers. O’Neil was the brainchild behind Bousek’s Andrus Award nomination. “She is never too busy to give. Her humble and hardworking approach and her love for helping those in need attract others to serve.”
This sentiment comes as no surprise to Bousek’s Grand Lodge family. “We all aspire to be as caring and compassionate as Mary Jo,” said Lisa Henning, executive director at the community. “Our organization holds volunteerism in high regard, and she exemplifies true selflessness. I can’t think of anyone who’s more deserving of the award.”
[In photo: Suzanne Blue (right), executive director at Matt Talbot Kitchen & Outreach, presents Mary Jo Bousek with a certificate commemorating her 25 years of service at the organization.]