We are VOA.
Ellie the potato puller. Ellie the Christmas Elf. Ellie the recipient of the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for the last nine years running.
Ellie Behn grew up in the halls of VOA. She has volunteered with us since the age of four, when her mom, Dixie, began work here more than twelve years ago.
Dixie says that without VOA, Ellie wouldn’t love service as much as she does. Ellie admits, “Asking me my favorite part of volunteering is like asking about a favorite child. But pulling potatoes was probably the most fun I’ve had.” Then, turning to her mom, “When can we do that again?”
"That day was spent pulling potatoes and chasing voles,” Dixie says with a smirk. “She had a blast.”
Both have spent their lives serving others, whether as a vocation or a volunteer. Dixie’s jobs in the court system, adult probation, and emergency dispatching often saw her helping the same people time and again, most of whom were struggling with chemical dependency and mental health. After ten years, her realization that these struggles “...were really a basic needs issue. Basic needs weren’t being met. I knew I had to be in a line of work that targeted the root cause of so much suffering.”
After managing a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Everett for 10 years, everything suddenly changed when the facility closed. Without an income, Dixie sought help from VOA for rent and utilities. “It was about two months in when my case manager told me they were hiring for a receptionist. It was only ten dollars an hour, but it was something. And I knew I could make a difference.”
She extended that belief to her children, repeating her mantra that one hour of service can change a life. With Ellie in tow, Dixie has changed positions throughout her tenure, each with progressive responsibility. Over those years, Ellie has volunteered in myriad ways from the Stuff a Bus event to the Meaningful Day Program to an annual tradition of acting as the VOA Christmas Elf.
Dixie now serves as the Director of Property Management, while Ellie is entering her Senior year of high school with sights set on the University of Washington for a degree in clinical psychology, so she can return to VOA in our crisis services.
Dixie says the future of VOA is full of opportunity. “With our leadership, the amount of ideas, the expansion, we are finding more ways to help and continue to grow. Too many still don’t know who we are, but I see so much possibility to reach more outlying communities and spread the mission.”
For those who ask what our organization is about, she tries to offer a concise way to describe it. “I used to say, ‘We are a social services agency that assists the community through food banks, ECEAP preschool, dispute resolution, and go one to list everything we do. Now I say, ‘Wanna know what we’re about? Come volunteer with us.’” Chimes in Ellie, “We aren’t just a food bank.”
Dixie and Ellie Behn have given of their time to VOA, Lake Stevens, and other Snohomish County communities to make them better places for having served. Their story is featured here as part of our #IAmVOA campaign.