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From athlete to volunteer: Bemidji's Melhus honored with presidential award

Bemidji Pioneer - 9/4/2019

Sep. 4--BEMIDJI -- Terri Melhus has been a Special Olympics athlete for many years. The 49-year-old Bemidji woman has won medals in bowling, track and field and swimming. But her proudest moment came this summer when she received an award from the White House for her work as a Special Olympics volunteer.

"I was surprised," Terri said. "I was really working toward this, as many hours as I could get. I knew that I could do it, but I was still surprised."

The President's Volunteer Service Award was announced in July at Minnesota's annual Athlete Leadership Program convention in Arden Hills. Melhus is the first Special Olympian in the state to receive such an honor. She was recognized for putting in 276 volunteer hours in 12 months.

In 2003, the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation founded the President's Volunteer Service Award to recognize the important role of volunteers in America's strength and national identity. This award honors individuals whose service positively impacts communities in every corner of the nation and inspires those around them to take action, too.

"Terri is a great example of what Special Olympics athletes can achieve away from sports as community leaders," said Dave Dorn, president and CEO of Special Olympics Minnesota.

Terri's volunteer work has been wide ranging:


She wrote thank you notes for the state and local Special Olympics organizations.


She was part of a Bemidji Special Olympics team that worked with kindergarten and first grade athletes at Schoolcraft Learning Community.


She organized the selling of Special Olympics raffle tickets during the summer months.

In addition, Terri has volunteered with United Way of the Bemidji Area, Support Within Reach and the Bemidji Community Food Shelf. That's in addition to her part-time job at Walmart.

"She just steps up," said Karlene Melhus, Terri's stepmother. "She doesn't tell you about all of it because she's very modest. Her job for the ticket sales is to coordinate Special Olympians to be there. Terri gets on her iPad and emails or telephones all of the other Special Olympians who have agreed to participate. She organizes everything, and she has been at almost every site as well."

That effort results in the sales of more than 1,500 tickets. "We raised about $8,000 for the team, which is a huge portion of our annual budget," said Shannon Murray, schools program associate for Bemidji Special Olympics. "The funds raised stay in Bemidji for our program."

Murray added, "We can call it volunteering, but really it's life enrichment. It's being together and doing things together."


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