Volunteer Spotlight Archives

A group such as The Preemie Project would be nothing without a dedicated group of volunteers. We feel lucky to have so many amazing people from all walks of life trying to help our organization. With each newsletter, we try to highlight different volunteers. This is the archive of those highlights. To each of you, please accept our heartfelt 'thanks.'

Linda Aker

Linda Aker

Featured Volunteer Linda Aker

Wow!  That one word sums up the June, 2009 Iowa Volunteer, Linda Aker.  Everyone knows Linda as Laura’s Mom and as the “List Grandma”.  But perhaps you don’t know one of the true powerhouses behind TPP.  And that is the fantastic Linda!!!

Laura, Linda’s beloved 26 year old daughter, is the founder and leader of TPP.  Linda, her trusty sidekick, was originally her legs and arms and strong back to launch the project and continues to be an amazing dynamo oftentimes behind the scenes.  For those new to TPP, the project was born in a time when Laura was suffering health issues and could not go to school or work.  With a Mother’s love, Linda suggested that Laura knit baby booties for NICU babies at University Hospital.  Laura took that seed of an idea and germinated it into TPP after weeks of investigation and countless postings, communications, press releases and meetings.  In the midst of meeting with volunteer offices and speaking to interested knitters in the community, Linda was the muscles, arms and legs during those early days, hauling boxes, making cookies, driving Laura everywhere and watching the project grow its own legs and arms and wings.  Linda was amazed by Laura’s confidence and vision as she engaged crowds of eager volunteers.  Together, they made (and make) a great team.  Linda knew about bake sales and shared her wisdom;  Laura learned about board meetings and then held them.  The Aker house was a gathering place for people, projects and all sorts of fabrics and materials.  Linda mastered sewing blankets and taught Laura the art.  Together, they watched their organized work weekends grow beyond all expectations from producing 45 blankets, initially, to more than 200 blankets in a single weekend. 

Linda has been a jack of all trades as TPP has grown and flourished.  She started as support for Laura, but her role became dramatically enhanced as Laura’s health improved and she returned to school and work.  Linda is renowned for her incredible fabric purchases (Get out of her way if there’s a sale at Joann Fabrics!!).  While still running the work groups, she is also Work Group Chair, Bereavement Co-Chair, manages a zillion computer tasks (with the help of Computer Programmer Extraordinaire and son Greg), writes thank you note, organizes and delivers donations.

Now a member of TPP’s Board of Directors, Linda took on the NICU “Back-to-Sleep” campaign and is providing the leadership to produce more than 850 sleepers a year.  Linda was the brains and the incredible hard work behind development of the prototype pattern for the design and worked closely with many Yahoo group members to get the approved pattern posted.  Her purchasing skills have been in the forefront as she buys zippers, fabric, snaps, threads and much more, leading a team of dedicated and talented work group volunteers in donating nearly 400 sleepers so far in 2009. 

All of this effort and devotion has had incredible side benefits.  Linda has been blessed to spend time with her daughter…countless evenings lately, perched at the kitchen counter cutting out sleepers.  In her words the time has been “priceless”.  She has the unfailing support of her husband of 32-years, John, a terrific man who lives graciously amidst TPP clutter and chaos.  (His response:  “Do you hear me complaining?“).  Linda is also blessed with son Greg, age 29, (married to Katie Madden) who is a computer programmer in Columbia, Missouri and son Andrew (age 24) who is an electrician (married to Jenna Lassen).  The Akers share their Coralville home with Laura’s three cats and welcome the visits from their soon-to-be son-in-law, Brian Pabich, a particular favorite of cat Miller who didn’t like anyone until Brian arrived.  And as if all of this isn’t enough, Linda works as a Medical Technologist at Mercy Hospital managing Quality Assurance for the Laboratory. 

Linda treasures TPP and she is a treasure to the organization.  Through it she has met wonderful crafters and kind, generous people who just want to make a difference.  She calls many of them “cherished friends” and she is moved to tears by countless people involved with TPP who ask only to be needed.  Many TPP volunteers have experienced hardship or loss and they just want to help the next family facing similar challenges.  Linda and Laura share the sentiment that the beauty of TPP is that you can do what you can when you can.  With Linda’s loving, skilled and capable devotion helping Laura manage and run TPP, we are all blessed.

Read More About Linda Aker

Sheri Null

Sheri Null

Featured Volunteer Sheri Null

With a warm heart and a soft spot for needy babies, our Iowa Volunteer for April 2009 is Sheri Null.  Her life has been a testament to both that heart and that love.  Sheri has spread that childhood love to five adopted children, a grandson and many foster children.

Both she and her husband, Wayne are natives to the State of Iowa but it was in California that they met while in the US Army Medical Corps.  After being discharged, Sheri and Wayne moved back to Iowa City and worked as nurses.  Today, they live in rural North English, located about thirty miles west of Iowa City.  Sheri has retired from nursing but retirement finds her busier than ever as she raises three pre-teen daughters and continues as a Foster Mom to those medically needy babies.

Busy kid times leaves few minutes for stitching but quieter moments bring Sheri time to enjoy her creativity for TPP.  Her original involvement included donating ideas and skills for the Memory Boxes in TPP’s Bereavement section.  Her initial skills were in sewing but through The Preemie Project, she has honed her talents in knitting.  Her buntings, hats, blankets and booties are often created while relaxing in front of television at night and she is a regular at TPP blanket weekends and is a contributor to the semi-annual craft sales for TPP.  Fearless, she has tried most crafts and is willing to experiment with anything…at least once.

Her love of babies and dolls carry through in her doll collection and her efforts at preemie knitting.  With personal difficulties conceiving and a miscarriage following infertility treatments, this volunteer was left with a permanent spot in her heart dedicated to the “littlest ones”.  And TPP is the lucky beneficiary of her efforts on behalf of them as she nears two years of involvement with our organization.

A sewing machine always at the ready, a yarn stock parked near her evening chair and a knitting project always toted with her, Sheri doesn’t waste a minute whether she’s waiting at appointments, picking up and waiting for kids at school or during her few quiet hours in the evening.  You can almost hear her needles clicking away.

TPP has given Sheri the chance to fill her creative need while providing her with a warm feeling that her creations are of some value to others.  As she so aptly asks:  “Who could ask for more than that of a charitable effort?“  Thanks to Sheri for her dedication, devotion and talents. 

Read More About Sheri Null

Claudia LeNeau

Claudia LeNeau

Featured Volunteer Claudia LeNeau

Claudia LeNeau is our National Volunteer for April 2009 and is a great contributor to TPP’s hat collections.  She is both an avid knitter and long-time quilter.  Married to her husband, Peter, Claudia lives in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota (a suburb of the Twin Cities) with her dog, Mitzi, and her cat, Abbey.  Daughter Michele lives with her husband, Grady, their golden retriever and a cat approximately ten miles away.  Her son, Kyle, and his wife, Julia, are close by at about five miles. 

Claudia is an enthusiastic quilter.  Like many, she loves to buy fabric and particularly enjoys a unique form of quilting known as appliquéing.  But once in awhile, she likes to take a break from quilting.  During the past two years she has become an accomplished knitter of rolled brim hats.  She acquires inexpensive yarn from various dealers and suppliers and fashions her hats using the same.

Her love of knitting hats, and her growing collection of same, caused her to search out places to donate her creations and The Preemie Project is the beneficiary of her talents.  The close proximity of Iowa to where she lives was a determining factor as well.  She knits mostly in the evening while watching television but she also relishes knitting in the car when she and her husband take long drives.  One year they traveled to Kansas City and she used the time to create her brim hats.  As she so aptly notes “You can’t quilt in the car.“

Claudia acknowledges that TPP has not really changed her life but it is clearly fair to say that she has had an impact on the lives of those touched by her creations.  Thanks to her for her time and creative talents.

Read More About Claudia LeNeau

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