They made a makeshift drum station on the fly, their instruments: foam noodles.

Gina Miller and Greg Sumner watched YouTube videos and brainstormed songs, "Itsy Bitsy Spider," "Happy Birthday" for their skills station during the Arrowhead Youth Games.

About 100 volunteers from different organizations came out to help for the field-trip event serving up to 300 youth with disabilities. Miller came with several members of Togetherhood, a local group of Y members who plan and volunteer for service projects in the Duluth area.

Each project benefits organizations outside of the Y.

The group has collected books for the Big Red Bookshelf; they've set up an exhibit at the children's museum; they'll help build a fence for the Duluth Community Garden program this summer.

Togetherhood is part of a national YMCA movement, and the Duluth Y was one of the first in the country to launch the program in 2015, said Miller, Togetherhood adviser and Y volunteer coordinator. Service is part of Miller's life off the clock, too.

She is a volunteer ski instructor for the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, a partner in the Arrowhead Youth Games with the University of Minnesota Duluth and adaptive physical education teachers from the region.

Miller has been volunteering with Courage Kenny for over a decade. Her father, Jerry Miller, was a special needs counselor in his career; and he helped his daughter at the noodle drumming stand during the event. Miller said a draw to volunteering is getting to know her fellow volunteers, and the process is "a sense of giving back, having a purpose."

In her professional role with Togetherhood, her job is to connect the group to Y resources.

The group meets a few times a year to select and plan upcoming projects. They aim to participate in four each year, and for the most part, they work with already established events.

As for recruiting, Miller said most people prefer to start with a short-term commitment, she said. Most people want to help out; they just need to be asked.

Mike Pennington was recruited to Togetherhood early.

He's an active volunteer at the Y, so it was a natural fit, he said. He also helps at a food bank once a month and for years, he was involved in the Duluth Optimist Club.

A big part of why he volunteers is it makes you aware of the tremendous needs here, and Pennington said doing something for somebody makes him feel good.

"I could give you all the cliched answers, but they're all true," he said. "You do these things, and you feel like you're barely making a dent in the problem. But you've got to keep plugging away."

Togetherhood volunteers have helped with the Arrowhead Youth Games every year. Pennington usually helps with adaptive cycling, but due to inclement weather, he manned the bowling station.

Having groups like Togetherhood show up are a big help to events like this, said Eric Larson, supervisor of the Courage Kenny sports and recreation department. It creates an efficiency in wrangling helpers for bigger events.

But generally, they don't have trouble finding volunteers at Courage Kenny, Larson said.

The organization maintains 350 volunteers who support their 18 weekly programs. "We turn volunteers away. It's an extraordinary problem to have."

He's involved in the Twin Cities program. "I wouldn't say the model doesn't work down there, but here, it really works."

Larson attributes this to the size of Duluth and a connectedness in organizations.

"Feels to me like a community that believes in volunteerism, believes in making a difference," he said.

At the hula-hooping station, Chad Stigsell held a handful of ribbons for juggling and a hoop.

Stigsell and his colleague started helping Togetherhood in September.

"I have a 2-year-old at home, and I know how important that one-on-one time is," he said before the kids filtered in.

Later in the morning, "They're challenging me," he said with a grin.

"I can't hula-hoop. They make it look easy, and she's doing two of them," he said, as a young girl with glasses insisted "Look what I can do."

A young boy spun three around his waist. When they fell, he struck a heroic pose with one hand pointed in the air.

"Good energy and smiles. It's rewarding," Stigsell said.

If you go

What: Next Togetherhood project is helping Duluth Community Garden Program build a fence at Fox Hole Community Garden

Where: 916 W. 6th St., in Observation Hill

When: 5 p.m. July 23

Want to help?

Contact Gina Miller at or call 218-722-4746, ext. 159 for more information. You do not need to be a member of the Y to volunteer.