Anyone familiar with The Caring Place has likely seen and been impressed by the dedication and kindness of the staff and volunteers. That’s why, as I sat down with Betty Miller at her station filled with purses and hats to discuss her experience as a longtime volunteer but as possibly one of the longest active volunteers, I felt kind of silly to begin by asking the obvious, “So, how long have you been volunteering here?” I did, however, ask a version of this to hear the impressive number of 33 from the woman herself. Betty began our discussion laughing and showed me her 30-year pin that she received “oh, a few years ago.” This means that since the early days of The Caring Place, Betty has been working to sort, inspect, price, and put out shoes, purses, and hats in the stores. While I’m sure she has worn many hats throughout her life, with such commitment to The Caring Place, one “hat” has undoubtedly become and still is hats.
Betty was eager to tell me about her initial involvement at The Caring Place: “I worked for Southwestern Bell for 30 years. My sister-in-law, Dorothy, worked at The Caring Place and always talked about how much fun they had when they’d come in. The week after I retired, I started working here on Mondays. And let me tell you a story about that.” Betty recounted on her first day volunteering here in the late 80s, that she shadowed an older woman. Though she expected the fun her sister-in-law spoke of, the woman would sort through the racks and toss what she didn’t like on the floor. Betty walked around the whole time with a black trash bag and collected the clothes from the floor to be donated elsewhere. Laughing as she remembered, Betty said, “I decided, you know, I’m not coming in the whole time to get on my knees and pick these clothes up from off the floor. Why can’t she put them in that bag?” Next week, Betty walked into The Caring Place and saw the woman grab the same black bag. Realizing, she said, “Oh no, here we go again.” She decided on a different job that day—working with shoes and purses. This position must have offered the fun she was promised because, over 30 years later, you can still find her with the shoes and purses.
Betty has witnessed and endured much change and growth throughout her extensive time at The Caring Place. Part of this change and growth was the building of the facility itself. When first volunteering, Betty recalls pairing and pricing shoes outside under the trees across the street (where the Programs and Services building is now located). Betty remembers being moved to the current building and how it made such a difference, “just, wow—it’s air-conditioned in here! It’s so nice.” Beyond the growth of buildings, Betty emphasized how Programs and Services has so much more to offer and has evolved to reach and help people in more considerable and numerous ways. For any of this to be the case, she stated, “The volunteers have grown; we have so many volunteers! And since the remodel, the conditions are so much better. It’s cleaner. I love the way that it’s so much more open. I used to be in a cubby hole of shoes in the corner! But, now, I can see everyone that I know and love.” As Ann, the store manager, walked by from volunteer to volunteer, Betty exclaimed, “and see, there’s one of my bosses; I love her!”
Like many, Betty could not come in for a while due to the pandemic and deeply missed The Caring Place being a constant in her life. However, she did not forget about The Caring Place, and The Caring Place did not forget about her. Betty was touched that, “Even when I couldn’t come in during COVID, they’d call and check on me. I was really impressed by it. I got calls from several people here. That meant that they think a lot of us—that they do really care.” Betty also said she was recognized around town during COVID and was asked numerous times when The Caring Place would be fully open. Not only did she learn how much she truly values The Caring Place, but she also learned how much The Caring Place was missed and was valued by others. “In all this time, I’ve never once felt like I wanted to quit. I’m not a quitter,” she said. “Besides, it’s a fun place. I’ve made so many friends. Just so many friends! And everybody’s always been so nice. A lot of them call me ‘Miss Betty’ now. I’ve had such good bosses. The only time I even got close to not having fun was with the lady who made me get on my knees!” That seems to be the general consensus: it is a fun place, fun enough to connect and keep many longtime appreciated volunteers like Miss Betty.