By Steve Gunn
IPS News Service
It's impressive enough that nine Ionia High Schools students volunteer every week at a local thrift store that's dedicated to helping people in need.
And it's pretty cool that one of those kids, who works as a cashier of the store, was recently named "Volunteer of the Month" because he provides great service for customers and stays busy during slow times.
What's really amazing is that the standout cashier is deaf, and manages to do his job so well without the ability to verbally communicate with customers.
Chris Mindte,18, a junior at IHS, received the award for February from the Enrich of Ionia County Board of Directors. He received a certificate and a gift card for his hard work.
While those rewards are nice, Mindte's biggest reward is gaining practical work experience, providing good service, and successfully connecting with people.
"I guess I enjoy helping people," said Mindte, who typically communicates through sign language, which of course most people are not familiar with. "Sometimes older ladies can't lift things, and I enjoy making it easier for them."
Mindte's teacher, Kyra Siverly, said he is very much a people person, and a hard worker who does not waste time when business is slow.
"He's very friendly, very social," she said. "He loves to be busy and help people. One of the things they commented on is his initiative. Chris doesn't stand around too often. He goes around and finds things to do without being told."
Siverly instructs the certificate of completion class at Ionia High School. The curriculum is focused on practical life skills.
Every Friday, nine students from the class go to the Enrich of Ionia County thrift store at 343 W. Main St. to volunteer for four hours. The Enrich store sells many types of donated items - and many items, like furniture and appliances, are provided for free to people in need.
The students from Siverly's class perform all sorts of tasks at the store - sorting items, pricing them, and making sure they are clean and unbroken before they go on the shelves.
In December all nine students from the class shared the Volunteer of the Month award.
"They are a huge help," said Martha Johnson, board president of Enrich of Ionia County. "Most of my volunteers are either older or women, so they do a lot of the furniture moving for me. They also clean, sort, help unload donations, and help take items that people buy out to their cars for them."
Mindte's contribution behind the cash register is particularly impressive, because he manages to complete transactions without talking to customers.
That doesn't mean he doesn't communicate with them. Mindte uses paper or a white board to write messages to customers, and says that most are happy to respond in the same manner.
Siverly said an interpreter is always nearby, in case there are communication issues, but Mindte is usually fine on his own.
"I can't hear, so that creates a challenge, but I'm able to write notes," said Mindte, who also earned Academic All-Conference honors this winter as a member of the Ionia junior varsity bowling team. "Sometimes I write on a piece of paper or sometimes the white board. It helps me make a connection.
"I think people are patient with me writing back and forth. I use the white board to tell them how much they owe. When I'm done I will write a 'thank you' and show it to them.
"It's really not frustrating to me. I got used to it. It's a smooth process."
Johnson said her customers have been impressed with Mindte.
"He does really well," she said. "People interact with him quite well. Customers are really impressed with his ability to communicate with them, and they say they think it's a neat opportunity for him."
Mindte said the experience has helped him gain personal confidence and prepare for the work world once he's done with high school.
"I feel like it helps me learn," he said. "I enjoy learning where to put things, learning how much things cost, and helping people. I like feeling involved with people. When you establish a connection with somebody, it might help them establish a connection with someone else."