December 8, 2017

Since fall, Susan Dolan has grown accustomed to regular flights to Los Angeles and back, but that jet-set routine isn’t as glamorous as it might sound.

“It’s only nice the first couple of times,” Dolan said.

That’s there’s work to be done, as helping kids takes precedent over catching rays during her constant travels. Dolan in September took over as president of the Assistance League, a Los Angeles-based non-profit with a mission of helping kids in a multitude of ways.

“You’re not having a lot of time for sight-seeing and sun bathing,” Dolan explained.

Serving as president of an organization consisting of 120 chapters nationwide, Dolan usually doesn’t make it far beyond the airport hotel where she conducts much of her Los Angeles business.

While Assistance League, in operation for almost 100 years, has a center of operations on the west coast, the organization’s role takes on various forms depending on which community it is serving.

The Assistance League’s Minneapolis-St. Paul chapter’s main project is to donate uniforms to elementary students in public schools in north Minneapolis and St. Paul. Additionally, the organization has a new relationship with the Richfield School District, so far centering on providing school supplies, according to Dolan.Students at Riverview Elementary in St. Paul show their excitement over bags full of clothes that were donated by the Assistance League as part of the organization’s flagship program, Operation School Bell. (Submitted photo)

Dolan joined the Assistance League in 2000, after she and husband Terry moved to the Twin Cities from Columbus, Ohio. Bringing a background in finance and marketing, Dolan started looking for traditional full-time employment.

Soon enough, the mother of two now-grown daughters found something more to keep her busy. “I happened upon a neighbor who told me about Assistance League,” Dolan said.

It wasn’t the full-time job she was looking for at first, but now, after six years involved in Assistance League on the national level, Dolan finds herself as busy as the typical professional.

“As the president, this is full-time volunteer job,” Dolan said.

The local Assistance League chapter meets at Church of St. Patrick in Edina, but local residents are more likely to be familiar with the organization through the thrift shop that has operated on Penn Avenue in Richfield since 2000.

Unlike Dolan’s travels, the dollars raised at the thrift shop don’t go far, geographically speaking. “Each community raises its own money and spends the money right in the community,” Dolan said.

That was one factor that attracted her to the organization. She added she was pleased with how professionally the meetings were run, and impressed by the high level of respect that was displayed for the volunteers.

And in Assistance League, they’re almost all volunteers. Across the country, the organization’s 23,000 volunteers are managed out of a central office staffed by four people, Dolan noted.

Since most of Assistance League’s local activities center around schools, fall, the school year gets most of the volunteers’ focus, she said.

But December is a major month for fundraising. According to information found on the organization’s national website, over 30 percent of its fundraising takes place between Thanksgiving and the new year, with the majority of those gifts arriving in the final three days of the year.

Nationally, Assistance League has served 1.5 million people, with a community impact of $38.8 million and 3.2 million volunteer hours, according to the organization’s own tally.

If history is any indication, that work should continue for quite some time.

“We come in and we plant ourselves in the community,” Dolan said, “and so we stay a long time.”

Thank you to Andrew Wig for his interest in Assistance League of Minneapolis. Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter@EdinaSunCurrent.