“I can’t tell you how weird it feels,” Bob McKee says of coming to the Friday volunteer shift he’s been attending with his daughter for the past six-and-a-half years.
“Yeah, we’re actually on time!” quips Ella McKee.
They both laugh, but the moment is bittersweet. With Ella headed off to college, it’s the last shift they’ll attend together for quite some time.
Ella began volunteering at Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) in the fall of 2015 to fulfill a community service hours requirement for her school. She chose DCHS partly because she wanted a volunteer role that she could keep returning to, but mostly because she appreciated DCHS’s mission.
“I’ve loved animals since I was super young,” she explains. She’d known about DCHS since she was little, and she’d even visited the shelter on field trips. “It was in our zeitgeist,” she says.
Because Ella was only 12 years old, she needed a parent or guardian to co-volunteer with her, so she and her father took on the Friday evening Critter Cuddler shift together.
“That’s how we teamed up,” says Bob with a big smile.
But it was never just about hours for Ella.
“I don’t think she even reports all her hours,” says Bob with the long-suffering sigh of a very proud parent. He’s referring to the fact that Ella often won’t report the hours she works beyond the total number required by her school.
But Ella just shrugs this off.
“I love it,” says Ella of volunteering. “It’s such a part of my week. I love what I’m doing, love the people here, I love working with the animals, and I get to hang out with my dad.”
When Ella was old enough to work volunteer shifts by herself, father and daughter took their separate paths, but continued to work shifts at the same time so they could arrive and leave together. Bob started working with dogs, and Ella would care for cats.
“It was a really enriching part of our relationship,” Bob says of their time as Critter Cuddlers. “But it was important for her to do this on her own, to be able to independently do her own thing.”
“It was a great way to learn obligation, responsibility, and commitment,” Ella adds. “The staff and other volunteers have been a profound influence over my formative years.” In particular, Ella appreciated seeing the many women in positions of leadership at the shelter.
“As a parent, it was a value I saw early on,” says Bob, “women doing really important, remarkable things. It was valuable for her to have that influence in her life.”
Ella is now preparing to attend the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and major in aerospace engineering. Her dream is to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“I care a lot about animals, and it’s something I want to keep in my life, but aerospace is my dream vocation,” she says.
Even as she blazes ahead to her bright new future, Ella will carry with her memories of her time at DCHS. The one that will stick with her the most?
“Weirdly…doing laundry with my dad,” she confesses with a smile. “I was too short to fold a sheet by myself.”
Ella has some advice for new volunteers: “Ask staff. They will always help you. If you don’t know the answer, someone else will, and they want to help you. Even if they don’t know the answer off the top of their heads, they will go out of their way to find you an answer.”
Ella and her father banter back-and-forth as they try to sum up their experience working with the staff and other volunteers at DCHS. It’s Ella who finds the perfect word: community.
“Exactly, that’s it, that word,” Bob immediately agrees. “This is a community, and it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of it. What a wonderful opportunity to have your daughter be a part of that community.”
The privilege has been ours, Ella. Thank you for being part of our DCHS community, and we wish you all the best as you embark on your next chapter.