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A Calling to Serve

Q&A with Gini Woodward

By Jillian Chandler

Photos by Kiersten Patterson Photography

Gini and Mike Woodward, along with their children Debbie and Jim, relocated to Sandpoint in 1974 to be closer to family. Like so many other young people who moved to North Idaho during that time, they wished to get closer to the land and a simpler life. In 1977, Mike accepted a job as city engineer, which brought the family to Bonners Ferry. As Gini says, the move from Sandpoint to Bonners Ferry presented the opportunity for a secure job for her husband, freeing her to pursue creative possibilities—which included opening a hole-in-the-wall shop to teach tole painting and develop a knitting machine business. Over the years, Gini has not only been devoted to her family and career, but to those in the community of the place she’s called home for more than 43 years.

Q. Do you recall the first time you volunteered your time and what it was for?

A. The first time I recall a Bonners Ferry volunteer project was to design and knit earflap hats for a fundraiser for the new, now old, visitor center. The project was fun, challenging, and I believe contributed all of $30. It was rewarding to be a newcomer using my skills to become part of the community.

Q. Can you tell our readers some of the organizations you are/have been involved with over the years? And what motivated you to become involved with these in particular?

A. The location of my business changed as it grew and spent the final 15 years on Main Street next to the museum. It was rewarding to be part of the Downtown Merchants’ Association with projects such as Christmas decorations, holiday activities, summer sales and centennial banners. As my children grew, I joined in school support projects, coaching softball one year, 4-H, Bonners Ferry Band Boosters. As our lives changed, new volunteer opportunities emerged. When our daughter developed serious mental illness during her college years and was hospitalized, the local counselor suggested that I might benefit from the volunteer mental health support group, which met for lunch once a month at the Chic-N-Chop. At the lunch there was a small group of older women and several people living with mental illness. It was election day, and very ready to pass the torch, they elected me to be president; a position that I was not prepared for but which, in time, led to my passionate advocacy for people with mental illness.

A few years after closing my store there were rumblings of change on Main Street. Many other businesses closed, the Boundary County Historical Society purchased the buildings and another volunteer opportunity emerged as a board member on the Historical Society. An estate donation, enthusiastic volunteers and the diligent creative curator, Sue Kemmis, perked up the buildings, exhibits, brought the Smithsonian Journey Stories to town, and created a cornerstone on Main Street that tells the story of the people of Boundary County.

About 10 years ago, I was getting my hair cut, and Lois Engert shared about some school children in the community who were hungry on the weekends. A committee, the BOCO Backpacks, was developing a program to provide weekend supplemental food for the three-day weekends. They were looking for someone to write grant applications. Without hesitation, I jumped in and joined Shirley Anderson, Merle Dinning and a bunch of like-hearted volunteers. The program continues to serve children with the support of the community and foundation grants. A few years ago, I became involved with the Community Coalition for Families, which provides a cooperative climate for individuals, volunteer organizations and professional agencies to work together and advocate for residents of all ages and all cultures in Boundary County. The CCFF became aware of shortages in housing. Grant funding from INNOVIA and the Idaho Community Foundation are providing emergency assistance to people at risk of homelessness. Data gathered over the last three years will help the community understand and pursue remedies.

Currently, I also serve on the Boundary County Board of Community Guardian, which helps educate families regarding guardianship and conservatorship and serves in that capacity when necessary. One of my pet projects is Conduit of Care through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Far North, Trinity Lutheran Church and Community Coalition for Families. This project provides support and personal needs to people with mental illness admitted to State Hospital North in Orofino.

Q. What are you most proud of when it comes to your involvement in the community?

A. Although I came to this community somewhat reluctantly as a young adult, the security of Mike’s job provided the freedom to willingly serve when opportunities arose. I hope this example is partially responsible for our son Jim’s commitment to serve Idaho District 1 as state senator.

Q. What inspires you most about the Bonners Ferry community?

A. The people of Boundary County are inspirational, creating a community that has been dubbed “Friendliest City in Idaho.” Where there is a need such as food, clothing or shelter, there are people who set their own needs aside to serve others. Ideas are like seeds planted, and someone comes along to water, fertilize and bring to harvest projects which benefit the community family.

Q. During your years of volunteerism, what have you found to be most rewarding/fulfilling?

A. Volunteerism reaps unanticipated rewards and fulfillment, long-lasting friendships with people I would not have met otherwise. It has been so rewarding to be part of projects that provide benefit to the community now and in the future.

Q. Why would you encourage others to take the time out of their lives to volunteer?

A. I hope to encourage others to take time out of your life to volunteer. Take an inventory of your talents, skills and passions to give forward in whatever way you can at whatever stage of life. I am sure that you will reap the benefits you might not imagine. Plant a seed for the future.

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