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Duluth volunteer makes the world a better place

Jonathan Kuchera is a volunteer's volunteer. You can count the organizations for which he volunteers on one hand, but just barely. Recently, he received a glowing community acknowledgment.

Jonathan Kuchera
Jonathan Kuchera and Paula Reed, president of United Way, both smile as he receives the Live United Award during the United Way annual luncheon earlier this year. (Submitted photo)

Jonathan Kuchera is a volunteer's volunteer. You can count the organizations for which he volunteers on one hand, but just barely. Recently, he received a glowing community acknowledgment.

"We wanted to recognize him for all of the volunteering that he does, not just at United Way," said Stephanie Thompson, a community initiative volunteer coordinator for AmeriCorps who is assigned to United Way and oversees Kuchera's work there.

Thompson said Kuchera's care for the well-being of Duluth extends beyond volunteering. "Jonathan makes a point of picking up stray trash and recyclables when he goes for walks around the city."

On February 28, the United Way of Greater Duluth held its annual Campaign Celebration and Awards luncheon at the DECC, honoring exceptional participation in and financial contributions to the United Way. One award shone with particular brilliance, representing as it does the organization's philosophy: the Live United Award. Each year, it is given to an individual who embodies what it means to "Live United" -- working in an extraordinary capacity with others in the community in order to enhance the community. This year, the United Way awarded it to Kuchera.

Kuchera has made volunteering a major facet of his life since 2007, when he began to participate in the volunteer program at the Duluth Public Library.

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"He has spent countless hours helping at the library," said an appreciative Roseann Argiesti, who coordinates volunteer activity at the library. "He has prepared materials for jail services and has done work for the reference department and technical services department."

Last year, the technical services staff held a party to celebrate a herculean feat: cumulatively, Kuchera had withdrawn books from a total of 600 library carts -- each of which holds approximately 120 books -- or a total of roughly 72,000 books. These books, permanently removed from circulation, needed to be individually marked as "withdrawn" so they could be donated to the Friends of the Library for its annual book sale. Kuchera, felt-tip marker and "withdrawn" stamp in hand, accomplished the task.

In 2009, Kuchera began to volunteer at Minnesota Citizens Federation -- Northeast. The following year, he offered his skills at the Duluth chapter of the American Lung Association, where he was recently profiled as a "Volunteer in the Spotlight." In 2010 he also started as a volunteer at the United Way, where he registers nearly all of the children who sign up to participate in the Imagination Library program, around 900 each year.

"Last Saturday I picked up a large amount of litter on Orange Street," said Kuchera. "I met a lady walking her dog, who thanked me for doing it. I told her, 'I didn't get everything, but I'm leaving it better than I found it.' That's kind of my philosophy about the world in general."

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