Citizen Dane: Bybee the glue that holds MOM together

Janet Bybee’s sympathetic ear has served the community well, first in her role as an administrative assistant for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District, and now as a super volunteer for Middleton Outreach Ministry. In each role, her empathy has helped people and families who are going through a rough patch.

For her relentless empathy in helping people who are less fortunate, Bybee was selected to be part of IB’s inaugural class of Citizen Dane, which honors greater Madison’s unsung heroes. Bybee and three other first-year winners serve as inspiring “templates” for future Citizen Dane selections.

MOM knows best

The Middleton Outreach Ministry, or MOM, believes that stable housing and food security are human rights. In an effort to give troubled people the stability they need to thrive in the future, the organization runs a food pantry that is open six days a week all year round, and serves, on average, 65 households each day. Through case management, financial assistance for housing, a clothing center, and a come-as-you-need model for the food pantry, people are able to stretch their budgets and channel their limited funds into maintaining stable housing.

To provide these services, the organization relies on a network of dedicated volunteers, and few are more dedicated than Bybee. With her warm and respectful manner, she serves MOM in two roles — one as a front desk receptionist and another in the MOM food and clothing distribution center. Given her tireless work for the organization over the past 13 years, averaging about 375 hours each year, Bybee is described by caseworkers as the glue that holds MOM together.

In addition, Bybee volunteers annually for seasonal programs such as MOM’s Back to School program, where client children receive backpacks filled with supplies for the school year, and the Sharing Christmas program, where client families receive holiday gifts from donors. She also steps in to help at special fundraising events held throughout the year.

Still, Bybee was a little uncomfortable being singled out, given the many volunteers that serve the organization. “I’m overwhelmed,” Bybee said upon learning of the Citizen Dane honor. “My goodness, it’s quite a distinctive honor for me. It’s more than I deserve, I’m sure.”

Not according to Joan McGovern, volunteer program manager or Middleton Outreach Ministry, who nominated Bybee for the award. “Janet sets the tone in the Distribution Center and leads the other volunteers by her example,” McGovern states. “She helps keep the Distribution Center organized and running smoothly. Nothing rattles Janet!”

Retired since 2006, Bybee’s previous life — 30 years of it — was spent as an administrative assistant for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. That prepared her well for volunteerism, so when members of her church who had already become involved with MOM suggested that she become a volunteer, she found a wonderful way to give back to the community. Her ability to say calm and listen — really listen — comes in handy when working with people who are often anxious, sad, or confused, especially when some of these needy people are children.

“When I worked within the school system, I was an administrative assistant, so I dealt with many kids and outside persons who came in on a daily basis,” Bybee recalls. “That gives me some insight as to how to approach and perhaps help people who are very much under stress and seeking the services we offer.

“I have been fortunate to make so many wonderful clients within the confines of this organization, and hopefully I have been a good person for them. I’ve had several of them confide in me to share their problems, and hopefully I’ve been able to give them some consolation and some hope that, indeed, MOM will be able to assist them with their stress. I don’t know if it’s a gift or not, but I have found that I do enjoy that part of the program. To meet with not only the clients but to know that the assistance they will receive here is very valid and productive.”



Since Greater Madison — especially a community such as Middleton — is an economically robust area, people might not think there is great need, but Bybee notes you’d be surprised by how many people find themselves in a stressful situation. The fact that people confide in her and later recognize and thank her for helping them is a very comforting thing, something that lifts Bybee’s spirits, too. When you think about it, that’s the mutually gratifying part of volunteerism, no matter what the volunteer organization’s mission happens to be.

“To be able to be of assistance and to be at the right place at the right time, or even over the telephone be able to give people answers to their questions, which I do when I’m a receptionist here at the office, that has been something I’ve been happy to do,” Bybee explains. “Of course, I’ve gotten that knowledge through the years, and also with the help of staff members who are very, very helpful to assist me if I have a question.

“Any time I can give someone an answer to their question or to point them in a direction that might be helpful, it’s very valid. So, yes, I’ve always felt like I’ve done something worthwhile.”

Volunteer connections

Bybee believes that volunteerism gives her an even better connection to the community. She feels fortunate to work with wonderful — her words — volunteers and staff, and to meet clients who are very meaningful to her. It makes her feel as though she’s giving quality time to the organization. “By volunteering, one can have a small part in providing solutions for those who may be experiencing stressful times,” she notes. “The MOM organization strives to provide a ray of hope within the community it serves.”

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