Meet 4 Amazing Milwaukee Volunteers

These four super volunteers give of themselves in extraordinary ways.

Jerry Davis; Photo by Quentin Ware-Bay

‘We’re Going to Feed You’

JERRY DAVIS has always been a hard worker. The Gary, Indiana, native had his first job at age 13, with a neighborhood youth corps. By 17, he was a paid apprentice in a foundry, and he worked as a welder for nearly 40 years.

After a workplace injury left him blind in one eye and unable to work, Davis became a regular at The Gathering’s meal site at 1300 W. Fond du Lac Ave. One day five years ago, he noticed that the trash and tray area was getting backed up, so he rolled up his sleeves – and has been doing so ever since. “I guess I needed something to do with my life,” recalls Davis, 65, who lives in Downtown Milwaukee. “I felt needed.”

Davis does the heavy lifting when donations come in, such as pallets of canned goods and boxes of produce. He fixes equipment when it breaks down. And his affable nature makes guests feel welcome. “Not only is Jerry incredibly dependable, he knows and understands our meal guests,” says Executive Director Lyn Hildenbrand.  

Says Davis: “We don’t discriminate in any way, whether you’re rich or crawling out from under a rock. If you come here and need a meal, we’re going to feed you.”

The Gathering of Southeast Wisconsin 

Provides meals and associated services at four sites across Milwaukee to people who would otherwise go without.

8,000 Hours and Counting

Lenore Tesch; Photo courtesy of Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement

AT AGE 88, Lenore Tesch is not slowing down. She drives, creates her own Christmas cards and loves to cook, read and walk. And every Tuesday, she shows up at Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement’s offices to do whatever is necessary: transcribe materials into Braille, water the plants, distribute her homemade cookies.

“I’m where I’m supposed to be right now in life,” says Tesch, who lives in Oak Creek. She began volunteering with ABLE in 2004, at age 70, after working as a paralegal in a patent law firm for 45 years. She says she “almost went nuts” the first summer after retirement until a chance remark by a relative led her to ABLE (then called Volunteer Services for the Visually Handicapped) and the challenge of learning Braille. Since then, she’s put in over 8,000 hours on just about anything ABLE produces: menus, religious books, encyclopedias and much more. Her favorite projects are children’s books. “Lenore is dependable, positive, willing and always singing ABLE’s praises,” says Executive Director Cheryl Orgas. “She’s our cheerleader.”



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“Braille fascinates me,” Tesch says. “Six dots in a Braille cell can create words, numbers, punctuation, in English, Spanish and German. It boggles my mind.”

Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement 

Produces material in Braille, audio and tactile formats to make the inaccessible accessible to blind and print-disabled individuals. 

Educating for the Future

Photo courtesy of Jade Hendricks

JADE HENDRICKS is busy building her career. At 29, she is an assistant vice president at MLG Capital, a role that includes leading the company’s philanthropic strategy. Hendricks is not too busy, however, to find ways to give back and share her growing knowledge with another generation. 

“Youth is my sweet spot,” says Hendricks, who lives on the Northwest Side of Milwaukee. “I put myself through college debt-free, so I’m passionate about financial literacy for everyone, especially young people.” Shortly after Hendricks began volunteering for ArtWorks, the pandemic hit, and her work there slowed to a crawl. Then Executive Director Terry Murphy suggested she teach their interns financial literacy, and an important component of ArtWorks’ programming was born. Hendricks created a curriculum from scratch, presenting it in monthly virtual sessions from October through July. Topics include budgeting, taxes, salaries, saving, stocks, generational wealth and even retirement.

“Jade’s program is extremely popular because she makes her presentations engaging and relevant,” says Murphy. Hendricks benefits from the interactions as well: “The ArtWorks interns are always engaged and come with great questions. They even challenge me – in a good way.”

ArtWorks for Milwaukee 

Gives high school students paid and unpaid art and skill-building internships, helping them develop confidence for college, work and beyond. 

Zeke Branderhorst; Photo. courtesy of the Urban Ecology Center

A Natural in Nature

LAST SUMMER, during the weekly Urban Ecology Center bird walk in Washington Park, Zeke Branderhorst stared down a stocky, red-eyed bird. As the bird pecked at a flopping catfish, the walk leader frantically Googled possibilities. Finally, an identification: “Juvenile black-crowned night heron!” It’s not unusual to see that bird in the park. What is unusual is that Zeke was only 13 and leading the walk of mostly adults. “I like observing wildlife when they don’t know you’re watching them,” Zeke says. “It’s much better than a petting zoo.”

Zeke lives in Sherman Park with their parents and two siblings. Mom Ana has homeschooled all three. Zeke began attending the Washington Park bird walks a few years ago and quickly became an aide to Tim Vargo, manager of research and community science. Zeke has assisted Vargo with tagging monarch butterflies, monitoring bat movements, and surveying dragon- and damselflies. “I can’t wait until Zeke takes over my job,” Vargo says. “They will be a great scientist.”

Zeke, however, wants to be a veterinarian. 

“Animals need our help,” Zeke says. “They can’t speak for themselves.” 

Urban Ecology Center 

Connects people in Milwaukee with nature and with each other, locations at Riverside and Washington parks and the Menomonee Valley. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s December issue.

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