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Tamarisk has been featured in several newspaper articles. Click on the tabs to read excerpts from these articles. Click the Read More link to read the full articles.

“Tamarisk: offering companionship for people with life-threatening illnesses”

Originally published in ABC Newspapers’ Opinion section
Thursday, June 1, 2018
by Eric Hagen, Staff writer

April was recognized as National Volunteer Month in the United States. An Anoka County-based nonprofit connects volunteers with people battling life-threatening illnesses.

Maynard Solomonson, 77, has seen Tamarisk from the perspective of a volunteer and a recipent of the services.

While Maynard’s wife of 55 years, Betzke, can provide some care, Parkinson’s Disease limits Maynard’s mobility and the Blaine couple needed a helping hand for errands and household chores.

Along came Billy Vossberg, a 39-year-old commodities trader with General Mills. For nearly five years, Vossberg has been the Solomonson home to take Maynard to the hardware store or out for ice cream or to play cards or board games. He has helped with many home improvement projects to make it easier for Maynard to get around. The biggest project was getting the bedroom properly wired and set up for electronics.

Vossberg has even been invited to the Solomonson’s cabin along Sullivan Lake a few times.

“He is family,” Maynard said.

Shelly Palashewski, program director for Tamarisk, said Solomonson and Vossberg are role models for other Tamarisk companions. But it is OK if a volunteer is not comfortable with tools or does not have the strength to lift heavy objects. Many times, all that is needed is an ear to listen.

. “We don’t have an agenda when we come and visit our companions,” Palashewski said. “You come in as complete strangers and over time you develop trust and this relationship and you become friends. It’s almost like it’s family.”

Tamarisk provides all these services for free.

Over its 25-year history, Tamarisk has served 1,190 families with more than 45,000 volunteer hours. The numbers fluctuate throughout the year, but Tamarisk provides companion services to an average of 40 clients a year and have a roster of 60 to 65 volunteers who provide companionship, help with special events or serve on the board of directors.

Palashewski said her father-in-law had Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. Palashewski helped as much as she could, but she was raising three young girls at the time. Her mother-in-law was able to be a caregiver on most days, but a Tamarisk volunteer coming in just a few hours a week gave her mother-in-law time to pay the bills, go to the store or have friends over.

Tamarisk is always in need of volunteers, Palashewski said. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, pass a background check, and complete 12 hours of training prior to being matched with a client to care for their non-medical needs.

Beverly Anderson, a 72-year-old retiree, is a companion to Cody, 24, Josiah, 20, and their single mother. These young men, who reside in Fridley, have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Anderson describes Tamarisk as “opening a whole new door in my life.” She has become an extended member of their family playing games, going on outings, and even attending graduations.

Solomonson vividly recalled the moment that motivated him to sign up as a volunteer companion for Tamarisk about 10 years ago. He was getting on an elevator at Mercy Hospital, preparing to leave after visiting a friend. A woman came onto the elevator, crying, and he asked what was wrong. She said her mother had just died. Solomonson asked if he could give her a hug and she accepted. They parted ways and he left the hospital. But on his way home, with this moment still on his mind, he made a U-turn on Coon Rapids Boulevard and drove back to the hospital and found the woman in the hospital cafeteria.

This woman’s mother was lucky to have family by her side, but not everyone is that fortunate. While Tamarisk offers companionship to people still at their homes, volunteers could also be there when their friend draws their last breaths.

Once, Solomonson sat up all night with a woman in hospice care, just talking and holding her hand to provide comfort.

As a young child, Vossberg remembered going with his grandparents to a local senior citizen home to play cards. After his mother died from ovarian cancer, he was looking for volunteer opportunities and found Tamarisk five years ago. One year ago, he also became a volunteer firefighter for the Ham Lake Fire Department.

“Billy is such a joy and inspiration to me,” Solomonson said. “He’s a jewel and makes me smile. It’s like I have another son.”

The next training event is planned for early summer, provided there is additional volunteer interest. For more information on Tamarisk, visit

Read More

“Tamarisk: Serving Others Through Illness”

Originally published on North Metro TV
Wednesday, April 19, 2018
by Danika Peterson, News Director

Rita Felling is a single mother. She shares her Fridley home with her children.

“I have three sons. My two youngest have a one hundred percent fatal muscle wasting disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy,” said Rita Felling.

Rita has seen several cases of Duchenne through her life, but didn’t expect it to reach her children.

“I had three brothers with this disease. I grew up being told I was not a carrier. My first son was born, and we had him tested right away. He didn’t have it, so we hung on to the fact that I’m probably not a carrier,” said Rita.

Then Cody was born.

“He didn’t roll over the way he was supposed to,” said Rita. “Everything that he was supposed to do was delayed.”

He was officially diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at eighteen months old. Josiah was born a few years later. He also has Duchenne.

“Young men who have this disease don’t live past their late twenties. My sons are in their early twenties, and are entering the last phase of the disease,” said Rita.

The Fellings have medical aides that help with basic case for Cody and Josiah, but Rita was a parent who wanted more for her boys. While searching for opportunities that might be right for them, she found Tamarisk.

“What Tamarisk does, we offer non-medical companionship to those in the end stages of a terminal illness,” said Kathy Dahl, the director of development at Tamarisk.

Through Tamarisk, the Fellings were paired with volunteer Beverly Anderson. Beverly has been a Tamarisk volunteer for ten years. She visits three homes once a week, simply to be a friend.

“She has enriched my sons’ lives in so many ways,” said Rita. “She’s been a grandma, a grandma that we didn’t have.”

While spending time with the Fellings, Beverly will often build Legos or solve puzzle with Cody and Josiah. Legos and puzzles are a few of the things they have the strength to do. Bev is happy to take part in any activity that makes them happy.

In other homes, volunteers do a variety of things.

“It really will vary, depending on the family’s needs, or the companion’s needs,” said Dahl. “Sometimes that volunteer is there solely for the family, and they just need support, they need someone to talk to.”

During Beverly’s visits, Rita has the time to catch up on medical paperwork, or mow the lawn, or sometimes just take a nap, knowing that her children are cared for and loved.

“We offer all of these services free to everyone,” said Dahl. “We truly believe that no one should walk alone at this time in life – regardless of your income, where you live, what your circumstances are – we just want to meet you where you are.”

“Andover Nonprofit Provides Practical, Emotional Support

Article by: Anna Pratt
Special to the Star Tribune
February 11, 2014 – 1:13 PM

When Barb Otterness and Jan Rickbeil get together each week, they might fold laundry, make supper or just sit and talk.

These are little things, but very meaningful to both women. Otterness, a part-time preschool teacher, visits Rickbeil as a volunteer through Tamarisk, an Andover-based nonprofit that provides nonmedical assistance to people dealing with life-threatening illnesses.

Eight years ago, Rickbeil, 52, was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating disease for which there’s no known cure. It’s getting harder and harder for her to get around, and her speech is greatly impaired.

Rickbeil’s three children, whose ages range from 17 to 22, act as personal care assistants to her while her husband works. When Otterness stops by the family’s home in Cedar, it gives everyone a much-needed break, Rickbeil said during their get-together last week, via a computer program that reads aloud her typed-up words.

Jeanne Haus, program manager for Tamarisk, said that’s what the organization is all about. Its mission is simple yet profound,
she said: “We’re there to provide comfort and support to people” as they near life’s end.

Read More

“A Helpful Hand to Those During Their Greatest Time of Need”

Originally published in ABC Newspapers’ Opinion section
Thursday, July 24, 2008
by Eric Hagen, Staff writer

When Pat McKeever was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago he and his wife Juanita McKeever moved from South Dakota to Anoka to be closer to their family.

Juanita McKeever found that she still needed help from others to provide 24/7 respite care for her husband, who is now 73 years old, and she found this help from a non-profit organization named Tamarisk, which provides companionship for children and adults with medical conditions.

The name “Tamarisk” comes from the Bible story of Abraham offering comfort to strangers crossing the desert. He gave them water and offered them rest under the shade of the Tamarisk tree.

Through Tamarisk, which is based out of Prairie Oak Community Church in Andover, the McKeevers met their own angel named Tom Hakala.

Hakala, 67, meets with the McKeevers once a week for about three hours. After he retired in 2002, he wanted to follow through on a commitment to himself to volunteer and after working for a couple of different groups, he eventually heard about Tamarisk.

Read More