Illustration by Randall Nelson
2013 Volunteer Hall of Fame: Charlie Quimby
Day job: Novelist, and retired former president of Words at Work marketing communications firm
Volunteerism: People Serving People, The Playwright’s Center
Charlie Quimby spends his days reading books, painting, and teaching kids ages 3 to 5 the things they need to know to be ready for kindergarten—and eventually to vote.
“I’m working with kids because someday they’re going to be the voters, work force, and homeowners or renters. Or they’re going to be the problem,” he says. The kids he works with are in crisis because of poverty and homelessness. “If we don’t work with the kids who are in a crisis, we’re looking at a lifetime of challenges for them and their families.”
At People Serving People in downtown Minneapolis, the goal is to give these stressed families a leg up by providing apartments, classrooms, and a daycare center—all onsite, making it easy for parents to look for jobs, learn skills, and get the time they need to create a stable environment for their families.
Instability is a strain on kids, and when parents are worried about finding food and housing, pre-K learning moves down on the long list of priorities they have for their kids. At PSP, teachers and volunteers help fill that gap, making sure kids recognize their letters, colors, and numbers so they’re on track when they enter kindergarten. “We also work on things like how to wash your hands, stand in a line, and resolve conflicts,” Quimby says. “These kids come from stressful environments and don’t have a permanent place to live. It’s a real critical development time for them, and it’s really important to give them as much support as possible.”
When he’s not sitting on child-sized chairs helping youngsters identify the color yellow, Quimby chairs the development committee of The Playwright’s Center, a volunteer position that serves a completely different need. For seven years now, he’s helped raise funds to support serious playwrights in various stages of their careers. “These plays relate to the world today,” he says. The center helps artists do important work that moves society forward in a different way. That’s what it’s all about.