November 2, 2023
A path of giving … and healing for a mother-daughter volunteer team
Lou Ann Wagner has always volunteered and believes in giving back to her community
As a single mom working full time and supporting her three young children, she made sure to set enough aside to buy holiday gifts for people who had less than she had. “She carved out money to do that when we didn’t have much,” says her oldest daughter, Jennifer Murphy.
Lou Ann’s connection to WayForward (formerly Middleton Outreach Ministry) goes all the way back to when the family moved to Middleton in 1981 and joined St. Bernard Catholic Church. Jennifer recalls her mother doing a number of jobs in support of WayForward’s work, including years of stopping on her way home from work to do an hour of volunteer data entry. She has continued to support the organization’s mission over the years.
But Lou Ann’s volunteer service and her life came to a halt in August 2022, when she fell off a ladder at home and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Her injury was life-threatening, requiring extensive interventions, rehabilitation and therapies. As her recovery progressed, Lou Ann’s desire to help others kicked back in. Even though she wasn’t really “allowed” to be on her computer without support, she would not be deterred.
“I signed myself up to volunteer” she said, after remembering her log-in and password to WayForward’s volunteer site. Since she wasn’t yet cleared to drive herself, Jennifer found herself recruited to volunteer with her. For the last year, the duo has been part of the “clean team” – Lou Ann vacuuming and tidying up the Clothing Center and Jennifer sweeping and mopping in the food pantry and the lobby of the building.
“This work is a reminder of how many unseen roles matter to WayForward,” Jennifer says. “Even ‘invisible’ jobs can be so valuable. If I am someone walking into this space and it’s clean, that means something.”
Both women consider their time volunteering as a key part of Lou Ann’s recovery from her injuries. “I’m feeling really good,” says Lou Ann, who no longer needs a ride from her daughter because she can once again drive herself to WayForward.
“This means a lot to us because we see how long she’s been giving back here,” Jennifer says.
“It is right in our backyard,” Lou Ann says.
“And people need help.” Jennifer adds.
Their time volunteering together adds to Lou Ann’s legacy of helping others and they hope others feel inspired to do the same. “There’s so many ways to be helpful,” Jennifer says.