Keiko Edwards and Vjosa (vee-yo-sah) Dodds are two different women in similar situations: They’re from other countries, and recently moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota after marrying American men. What’s more, when the two got here, they didn’t know anybody and spoke limited English.
Not a fun situation.
“I started getting homesick,” admitted Dodds (pictured above), a 24-year-old Kosovo native. “I needed to spend my days doing something other than emailing.”
Same goes for Edwards (right), a 45-year-old from Japan.
“I was in my house all day and didn’t have a chance to speak (English),” she said. “At the same time, I wanted to meet people and make friends.”
Their lives improved the moment they walked inside the Grand Forks Salvation Army. Both ladies are now regular volunteers there, and have friends galore.
“We feel blessed to have volunteers like Vjosa and Keiko,” said Major Jonathan Fjellman, Grand Forks Salvation Army administrator. “They both work very hard, and have become key components of our team.”
When Dodds first came to the Grand Forks Salvation Army last October, she thought it was an extension of the U.S. military – she’d never heard of the charity, it contained the word “Army,” and one of the social workers did nothing but help veterans. Dodds’ husband knew the social worker, and had told her to stop by and see if The Salvation Army needed any help.
Eight months later, Dodds has become a full-time, do-it-all volunteer. She gives about 35 hours per week, spending every weekday filing documents, restocking the food shelf, and helping with whatever else needs doing.
“I’ve become a better person since I started here,” she said. “People who aren’t so nice, they want to be nice here because everybody makes you feel so comfortable. I can’t even say how good it is here. I wish I knew about The Salvation Army the first day I came to the U.S.”
Dodds, raised Muslim, has even attended church services at the Grand Forks Salvation Army. “I went a lot this winter,” she said. “Everybody was very welcoming.”
After Dodds becomes an official U.S. citizen later this summer, she’d like to attend college to become a social worker. Whatever her career path, she’ll never stop helping The Salvation Army.
“I’d like to keep volunteering here,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to let go of this place.”
One thing that’s impressed Edwards about American culture is the generosity of businesses. She’s noticed this at the Grand Forks Salvation Army’s food shelf, which relies on local grocery stores that donate food that is close to expiring – aka “rescued food.”
“In my country, we don’t have this kind of system – the food gets thrown out,” she said. “This is a great system.”
Edwards has been helping at the food shelf since February, three days a week. Her husband suggested that she volunteer at The Salvation Army because “it’s a great place,” she said.
“Everybody here is so nice, so kind,” Edwards continued. “They teach me American traditions. This is a good place to meet friends.”
Edwards is also planning to attend school in the near future. She was a nurse in Japan, but must start school all over again to be certified in the U.S.
Like Dodds, she’s not going to stop volunteering anytime soon.
“I want to keep this pantry work,” she said.
Meanwhile, she’s trying to convince her other friends to join.
“They’re in their house, bored,” she said. “I tell them to please come here. It’s a good experience and you can meet friends.”
If you, too, have time on your hands, or would like to meet new friends, start volunteering at the Grand Forks Salvation Army. There’s plenty to do, and people who need your help.