Standout Volunteers of the Year

On April 7th, 2021 the Coalition was thrilled to thank some of our extraordinary volunteers for their wonderful contributions to our mission.

Because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, we had to get creative. We were elated that volunteers could attend our socially-distanced Appreciation Luncheon.

We wanted to give volunteers a safe and superior experience! Lunch and dessert was provided from the award-winning Nathaniel Reid Bakery. Volunteers all parked at Tilles Park and stayed in their vehicles for the event. They called into a phone number, and while they ate, the Coalition staff recognized each one of them and shared their enormous contributions to our organization.

Our work could not be possible without the support of our dedicated volunteers – we are so grateful for all of you!

The Volunteers of the Year recognized at our appreciation event were:


  • Jim first learned about the Coalition during a United Way presentation given to his law firm by our Executive Director Melanie Scheetz. He was convinced the Coalition was an organization he wanted to support.  When watching the news on KSDK Newschannel 5, he saw that we were at Walmart hosting Little Wishes Shopping Day and he hopped in his car and came out to personally hand us a donation.  That moment began a 13-year relationship between Jim and the Coalition.
  • For the past 6 years, Jim has served on the Board of Directors.  An outspoken Board member, we love him for challenging the status quo and being a driver of excellence in all that we do.
  • Jim has served on numerous ad-hoc committees and was a major contributing author of our strategic plan, improving the Coalition’s infrastructure to make us the strong $5 million organization we are today.
  • Jim is the total package…generous with his time, talent, and treasure.  We are delighted to recognize him for all he does.


  • Julie created the organization DenimQuilts after watching how much her children adored and used the quilts their grandmother had made for each of them decades ago. Julie wanted to give something equally special to other children who might need warmth and comfort during a difficult time in their lives.
  • Since then, Julie and her DenimQuilts volunteers have created more than 400 beautiful personalized quilts for foster children.
  • The quilts have been so special because many of the children we serve have never owned something made just for them – these quilts are embroidered with the child’s name and fabric is specifically chosen to connect to one of the child’s favorite things. The heavyweight quilts are also a great weight for kids with sensory sensitivities to put over themselves to help calm them down during stressful times.
  • We’re so thankful for Julie being the brain and heart behind DeminQuilts.


  • Kaitlin joined our Junior Board only a few short years ago but immediately became a powerhouse volunteer and ambassador for the Coalition.
  • She got involved with us after learning that the number of children in foster care was so much larger than she ever imagined. Kaitlin quickly started signing up to volunteer in all sorts of ways – Cinderella Project, the Back to School Bonanza giveaway, ReFresh, and more!
  • Kaitlin also worked to get us two speaking engagements with the St. Louis Association of Health Underwriters. We love to make new friends!
  • Natasha Leonard, the staff member who works most closely with the Junior Board, says “Kaitlin always brings fresh ideas and a go-getter attitude to the Junior Board. She is always willing to jump in and brings in friends, colleagues and family to support us also. Kaitlin shares a passion for our mission and our kids. She has been the ideal Junior Board Member and advocate for the Coalition. Thank you for all you do, Kaitlin!”


  • Tonya started volunteering with the Coalition in 2016 as a member of a Wells Fargo volunteer group. Since 2017, she has been jumping in to help us in about every possible way – Cinderella Project, Birthday Buddies, Foster Friends, and as an in-office online holiday Little Wishes shopper.
  • In 2018, Tonya used 1 week of her vacation time to help with holiday wishes. Ever since, Tonya has devoted 2 weeks of her vacation time every year to volunteer with holiday Little Wishes.
  • Shelley Thomas-Benke, the Coalition’s Volunteer Director, soon “promoted” Tonya to a leadership role – training other volunteers on how to find the highest quality toys for the best prices and process each order meticulously.
  • When asked why she’s so devoted to the Coalition, Tonya said “it melts my heart to see the staff working so hard to make sure each child feels special while searching for their forever family. It is a great feeling knowing you played a small part in making a child happy. I am so glad I found my forever charity.”


  • Our ReFresh managers just could not choose one individual as their outstanding volunteer of the year–the entire group we affectionately call “The Fab Five” needed to be recognized together. These incredibly dedicated women keep the stockroom running like a well-oiled machine and share their diverse knowledge and experience to collaborate on business strategies and processes.
  • DEBBIE GRAY was the brains behind the very popular ReFresh Dot Sale, a big success in turning over inventory, and she also fills a huge need by stepping in as a fill-in manager whenever requested.
  • ELIZABETH MAIZE is our merchandising megastar, creating guidelines to make sure the store is organized in an aesthetically-pleasing way. She was instrumental in helping ReFresh become a real presence in the Bridal Market and is a fill-in manager as well.
  • JUDY STEFFANS is the queen of jewelry and accessories– a best seller at ReFresh, Judy always makes sure we plenty of it displayed. In addition, Judy and her accounting background help us make sure that we squeeze every possible penny out of our operations.
  • LEAH STROUP is always finding new ways to make ReFresh’s processes more efficient so it can earn the biggest profit possible to support the Coalition’s mission. Leah is so dedicated to the success of ReFresh and the Coalition that she’s been known to volunteer more than 40 hours in a week.
  • KEVIN WISNIEWSKI is our fashionable #1 longest-running ReFresh volunteer and always offers terrific perspective since she has seen the many different evolutions of the store.


  • Our Executive Director Melanie Scheetz met Cari on the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Society and thought this passionate, intelligent and busy adoptive mom would be an excellent Coalition Board member someday.
  • Cari volunteered at the Coalition as a Foster Friend and holiday Little Wishes volunteer, then joined the Board of Directors in 2015, and became a superstar member of the Sizzle Committee beginning in 2016.
  • During Cari’s time on the Sizzle Committee, the event became the Coalition’s largest in-person fundraising event and it broke all records at the last event in November 2019. Cari is a terrific Coalition ambassador, she’s always willing to round up her friends and neighbors to support our events.
  • Cari has also made a long-lasting impact on our Board of Directors as a Vice President and Nominating Chair! To date, she has shepherded seven successful Board nominations with more on the way.


  • Tom has been with the Coalition since the year 2000, first as an employee and then as a volunteer. After retiring from 30 years with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Tom joined the Coalition to help us recruit Illinois foster parents. It was a 2 year position, but Tom stayed on for 13 years, recruiting hundreds of Missouri and Illinois foster/adoptive parents.
  • Tom has always been willing to provide his wisdom, guidance, and mentorship to our management team. He’s played a large and vital role in growing the Coalition to be the nationally-recognized agency that it is today.
  • After Mr. T finally retired from the Coalition, Rossi Summers, our Director of Operations, immediately snatched him up to help her with tasks she would never trust to anyone except Tom.
  • Tom also volunteers every year with holiday Little Wishes and at our annual Hope in a Handbag event. Tom is still part of the Coalition team, we couldn’t imagine the Coalition without him!


  • It is impossible to overstate Michelle’s commitment to foster children and the Coalition’s mission. Through her 20 years of work with KSDK’s A Place to Call Home program, 464 foster children have found their forever families.
  • Even after retiring, Michelle continues to oversee the producing of the KSDK A Place To Call Home spots. No exaggeration – Michelle remembers details about literally every child who was ever featured on the program.
  • When asked why she’s so passionate the Coalition, Michelle said “it started as a job, then evolved into so much more. I realized that these are kids that people have forgotten about. Getting to see and interact with those children and hearing their stories, it just broke my heart…and made me SO committed to helping them find forever families.”
  • Michelle has also been a compassionate mentor and advocate to a youth who was on APTCH years ago, a relationship she still continues. In addition, Michelle was a very involved Board of Directors member for many years.
  • We are the luckiest organization around that Michelle found us, loves our kids as passionately as we do, and puts her heart and soul into supporting them.


  • The wonderful Katie Werner has been volunteering with us for 15 years. After she had children of her own, Katie joined the MOMS Club of Kirkwood, and connected that group to the Coalition.
  • Since then, MOMS Club of Kirkwood has become one of our most reliable go-to groups that we keep in our hip pocket and know we can reach out to whenever we have a special need.
  • When this MOMS Club takes on a project for us, they always go way above and beyond! They have provided hundreds of backpacks and school supplies to our kids, sponsored several Birthday Buddies, and at Christmastime they always adopt one or more of our families who has had particularly difficult time that year. And they really go ALL OUT, bringing us stacks and stacks of gifts that truly give these children Christmas memories of a lifetime.
  • Another one of the things we love about this MOMS Club is that their own kids are clearly involved in helping collect and deliver their donations, sharing our belief that it’s never too early to teach philanthropy to their children.
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