Passion for volunteer work fuels community involvement |

Passion for volunteer work fuels community involvement

Blair Bracken
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Since moving to Rifle in 1989, Kathy Runia has spent countless hours volunteering for various causes.
Blair Bracken / Contributor |

If you ever want to know what it means to take part in your community, just ask Kathy Runia.

Runia, or Kath as she’s known by her close friends, was born in Leadville, a town steeped in history and culture, where she lived until third grade. Her father, a second generation construction worker, packed up the family and followed water reservoir jobs all over Colorado during the time of reservoir development.

Though the instability of having a permanent home impacted Runia’s ability to make long-term friends and establish relationships in any one community, she found the bright side of relocation and learned about each community she lived in, as well as its history — knowledge that would help her later in life.

Finally, the family moved to Longmont where her father took a job at a gravel company, and Runia began to set some roots during her high school years.

After meeting her husband, Kevin, in their local Longmont church when they were 19, the two lived a happy life in the town, but the congestion of city living began making the couple restless. On a trip out to the West Slope, while stuck in traffic in Idaho Springs, Kevin stated, “I just feel the stress level building right now,” and Kathy asked a question that changed the couple’s lives forever: “Then why are we going back?”

In August of 1989 they moved to Rifle and at 30 years old, they “started from scratch and here we are,” Runia said. They wanted to take advantage of a better quality of life and find a place to begin a family. Runia recognized how important it would be for her children to have the continuity and stability she lacked as a child.

The move to Rifle was a permanent one and Runia embraced her new community with open arms. Noting that her greatest passions are volunteering and history, she immediately began filling needs in her community by volunteering at her son’s local 4-H club and quickly became a leader in the organization.

Her passion for volunteering dates back to her days in Longmont. When Runia was a young hairdresser, she had a client who worked for IBM and was a part of the American Business Women’s Association. Her client strongly encouraged Runia to volunteer and join the association despite Runia’s feeling that, at the time, she was not a business woman. The client informed Runia that the organization offered scholarships to young women who otherwise couldn’t go to college and didn’t have the financial support.

Runia found a personal connection to that statement and saw an opportunity to help her younger sister who was going to college and did not have financial support from their parents. In addition to helping her sister, Runia saw the opportunity to help others who had the same need.

Runia didn’t come from a volunteer background, but after her affiliation with the American Business Women’s Association, she quickly saw the value and began to be part of many causes.

“Not only are you helping the community, you are helping the organization to gain funding through the hours you donate,” Runia said.

Shortly after their move to Rifle in 1989, her husband was offered an opportunity to start his own tire store. Runia supported her husband in his efforts by helping with marketing, sales and bookkeeping, while still maintaining her volunteer efforts in the community.

Eventually, once her kids were grown Runia found a niche in the community, one that utilized her extensive knowledge of Colorado, when she took a position as manager of Rifle’s Information Center, which is closing at the end of the year.

Runia also recognized a need for leadership and volunteer work at the local museum — now officially known as the Rifle Heritage Center. The museum represented a place where Runia could integrate both of her great passions, volunteering and history, but with two separate entities contributing to the same cause at the time Runia became involved, it was a challenging environment.

She wanted to see a unified effort to “get on the same page” and she helped to create the singular entity of the Rifle Historical Center that exists today. Runia sees a lot of room for improvement at the museum and she is excited for the future of the organization. She and others are actively working with members in the community to make a better center for historical artifacts.

Although it can be hard to find time to volunteer, which at times feels like as unpaid job, Runia enjoys the aspects of volunteering and sees the greater reward.

“You have to do what you like,” she said. “Otherwise, why bother?”

Runia is cognizant of the fact that everyone has their struggles, everyone has their side of the story and everyone has a history.

Being as involved in the community as she is, Runia has seen and worked with many types of personalities.

“So when I sit on these different boards and become involved in these different organizations I try to keep that in mind,” she said.

Being a part of the community doesn’t start until you make the time to take part. And as evidenced by Runia, you can always find the time.

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