Gretchen Roufs' portraitJoanie Frantz will do just about anything if it’s for a good cause. Take this past January, for instance, when she jumped into the ice-covered Detroit River — in her bathing suit.

Her river jump was part of the annual “Polar Plunge,” a fund-raiser for the Special Olympics, a non-profit organization that provides sports training and athletic competition opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Joanie says the worst part about the plunge wasn’t the cold — it was the water itself. “The Detroit River is not really clean, so when you get out, you have sludge all over you,” she said.

Joanie, who lives in Wixom, Mich., is executive account manager for Georgia-Pacific Corp.’s central region and is an avid volunteer.

My head was spinning as Joanie listed her volunteer activities. “I am involved with my church, the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity, the multiple sclerosis society, and the children’s hospital,” she said. “I get involved in feeding the poor; I collect soap and shampoo for the homeless; I compete in runs for diabetes and for the homeless; and I did a bike ride for a boy with a brain tumor.”

Joanie also talks with inner city high school kids about self-esteem, and volunteers on Monday evenings at a group home for 15 mentally challenged adults.

She was introduced to the people at the group home by Georgia-Pacific co-worker Jim Holloway.

“In high school I did volunteer work with mentally challenged adults,” she said. “I just happened to be with Jim when he stopped at the group home, and when he noticed that I was very comfortable in that setting, he asked me if I’d be willing to go back.”

Nearly six years have passed since then and Joanie still makes it a priority to visit the group home on Monday nights.

“We play bingo, basketball, and soccer with the folks at the group home,” she said. “We have pizza parties, decorate holiday cookies and make Easter baskets. The volunteers also pitched in and bought a karaoke machine.”

One of Joanie’s most special volunteer memories has to do with a young woman from the group home who raced in the Special Olympics. “Her legs were completely crippled, and she had only one arm. I will never forget watching her cross the finish line,” Joanie said.

It warms Joanie’s heart to see the camaraderie between people in the group home. “They take care of each other, they look after each other, and they understand each other,” she said. “The common language between all of them is not intellect, but love.”

Joanie told me that her experience as a volunteer at the group home has given her greater patience and wisdom.

“It has taught me gratitude,” she said. “I get so much more out of this than I could ever give. It has taught me how to act, and that I don’t thank the Lord often enough for my healthy grandchildren.”

Joanie was recently named volunteer of the year at Georgia-Pacific. With great modesty, Joanie said, “I don’t feel that I deserved to win that award. I do these things because it’s the right thing to do. I do it for the love. There’s absolutely nobody who can’t volunteer. I work 60 hours a week, and I firmly believe you can make time to be a volunteer no matter how busy you are.”

Gretchen Roufs, an 18-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns a marketing and public relations company in San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,”contact her at