Years of shopping flea markets and yard sales have left Bobbie Wakamo with a good eye for quality used goods and a talent for pricing such items. That has made her an ideal volunteer with United Methodist Children’s Home, whose principal fundraisers are its flea markets.
“I know what I’m doing,” said 80-year-old Wakamo, who’s been volunteering with the children’s home approximately 20 years. “We have a reputation for good value and we don’t sell junk. I identify the items that are up to our standards. Some aren’t what we want, but are still in decent shape; we donate those to another charity.” Some items, she said, aren’t suitable for sale or giveaway and are sent for recycling. There are usually three sales a year, but donations are accepted all year long, so Wakamo stays busy not only sorting by quality, but putting like items together—even down to organizing clothing by size.”
Wakamo’s devotion to volunteer work has led to her being named this year’s Georgia winner of the Home Instead Senior Care network’s Salute to Senior Service award. The sponsoring organization, Home Instead Senior Care, provides non-medical in-home services to older people. In the nationwide competition, launched this year to honor seniors’ commitments to their causes and communities, she emerged as one of 50 winners from among approximately 1,330 entries.
Jeff Huber, president and chief operating officer of Home Instead Inc., called Wakamo “a senior hero to many.”
“She has shown that volunteer opportunities for older adults should not diminish because of age. Seniors such as Bobbie are making important contributions to their communities through charities, nonprofit organizations and faith communities,” he said.
Jane Howland, who nominated Wakamo, said, “Bobbie Wakamo can be found almost any day of the month rummaging through old clothes and dusty, discarded furniture…though most of us couldn’t think of anything much worse.”
Wakamo calls her work at the South Columbia Drive facility “my job” and attends it as faithfully as any paid employee might.
The more than 550 volunteer hours she puts in each year includes helping to oversee the work of 60 volunteers at the home. Wakamo explained that she doesn’t want volunteers who aren’t serious. “Anyone who thinks they can just drop by for a couple of hours and it’ll be fun doesn’t understand what we’re doing here. This is hard work. There’s a system and we want volunteers to understand that system. We want consistency in the way we select and price the items.”
A retired nurse, Wakamo said she believes her training and experience in health care have contributed to her organizing skills and attention to detail that are so valued at the children’s home.
In her work with the children’s home over the years, Wakamo has sorted through countless donated clothing, sports equipment, books, jewelry, shoes, toys, games, furniture and china. Two buildings on the Methodist Children’s Home campus are devoted largely to storage of donated items. In a building erected in 1907, china and glassware alone fill a large room. Another is filled with clothing. In the adjacent building are rooms of furniture and a collection of books larger than one might find at many libraries.
“The flea markets are such an important fundraiser for the home,” said Wakamo, who estimated that each raises about $35,000. “I’m proud to be associated with this organization,” she said of the home founded to care for Civil War orphans. It has been at the Decatur location since the 1870s.
Thanks to the meticulous work of volunteers, the flea market has a reputation as one of the best in the metropolitan Atlanta area. “People know they can get great bargains here. They line up outside even before we open,” Wakamo said.
She said she plans to continue to volunteer with United Methodist Children’s Home as long as her schedule allows.