These Four Volunteers Bring Joy to Kids Throughout NEO

These Four Volunteers Bring Joy to Kids Throughout NEO

- in 2017 Editions, November/December 2017, Profiles

Not The Beatles


A Girl Scout leader, a Polar Express elf and a couple who takes their dog, Molly, to visit sick children.

Tina Collins, Michael Babbitt and the Freys — Brent and Dot — are rock stars to kids throughout Northeast Ohio.

Whether they’re on a train, at camp or next to a hospital bed, these four have parlayed the remarkable power of volunteerism into service that’s both fulfilling and fun.

In many ways, Michael, Tina, Brent and Dot are like thousands of other 50-and-older Northeast Ohio residents who share their time and talents. Volunteering is important to them, and children hold a special place in their hearts.


Christmas Spirit

Michael’s sparkling eyes and outgoing personality seem custom-made for his role as an elf-reader on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s annual Polar Express. He looks quite comfortable in his outrageously oversized Christmas hat and red shoes with toes that curl elaborately upward.

His elf job is riding the train with hundreds of excited children as they travel through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the North Pole. He’ll ride on 14 trains between Nov. 11 and Dec. 21.

“There’s a role for everyone,” Michael says. “Some just want to serve hot chocolate, others write name tags and seat people.”

But all dress up in some fashion and ride the train or stand along the platform greeting children arriving at the North Pole.

No experience? No costume? No problem. “Volunteer once and you will become an expert,” Michael says.  While most volunteers supply their own attire, Polar Express organizers have tunics to lend to North Pole elves.


Girl Power

Tina got involved with Girl Scouts when she was a girl, and then again when her daughters were young. She liked it so much that she has stayed with Scouting for two decades and counting, volunteering as an outdoor trainer and most recently as leader of high school girls in Troop 90146 out of Northfield.

Tina has taken girls camping, traveled with them across the country, and has helped them develop leadership and life skills that will carry them on throughout their lives. It’s rewarding work.


Pet Therapy

Brent and Dot and their Yorkiepoo, Molly, are part of Akron Children’s Hospital Doggie Brigade, operated through Pet Partners.

The Freys and Molly visit children at the hospital, letting them pet, hold and cuddle with their gentle, 10-pound dog.

Each pet must pass a vet exam and a behavioral screening process. They also must be at least a year old and have lived with their handler for at least six months. Volunteers commit to 26 visits a year, along with several special events. The hospital accepts applications for new Doggie Brigade members each January. Screenings are in March.

Through the Christmas season, Dot dons a snowman suit — not for her hospital work, but for her role as a character standing trackside for The Polar Express.

To learn about Girl Scout volunteer opportunities, contact Girl Scouts of North East Ohio at

To participate in The Polar Express this season, go to and following the volunteer links.

And if you have a dog you want to share with kids at Akron Children’s Hospital, visit

Marie Elium had the role of  Mrs. Santa Claus in her first grade play at St. Sebastian School.

About the author

Marie Elium spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter in Virginia and Ohio before switching to freelance writing when her two children were young. The kids are now Millennials, but writing continues to be one of her favorite endeavors. Marie was named editor of Northeast Ohio Boomer and Beyond magazine in November 2015 and is a graduate of Miami University. Marie can be reached at [email protected]

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