Julie finds a home at Homes

Julie finds a home at Homes
Julie Bittenger, of Owatonna, is chairwoman of the Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser for Hiawatha Homes in Rochester.

Julie Bittenger is one of those humble people who doesn't like to bring a lot of attention to herself and boast about all of the volunteering she's done.

But that's what this column is for — to do the boasting for Julie and others who deserve recognition for their dedication and hard work.

So here goes.


While she was working as an occupational therapy assistant and since she retired from that profession a few years ago, Julie has been a tireless volunteer for organizations that help people with disabilities.


Julie's main love, in terms of volunteering, has been Hiawatha Homes, a Rochester nonprofit that provides housing, in-home support and a wide variety of services for people with disabilities and their families.

Teresa Thompson, the director of development for Hiawatha Homes, described Julie as extremely dedicated and willing to do whatever needs to be done for the organization.

Julie lives in Owatonna with her husband, Tom Bittinger. She began volunteering for Hiawatha Homes 14 years ago because her son Eric, 36, who has developmental disabilities, had been receiving care and housing there for several years.

"I realized it was such an extraordinary organization and my son was living such a good life. And the quality of the staff ... it was just all so amazing, and I thought, 'I want to give back somehow,'" she said.

Today, after so many years serving on various Hiawatha boards and committees, she said she continues to enjoy it because she loves the people and the things she has learned. Her favorite project has been the Festival of Trees, the organization's largest annual fundraiser, which, this year, is Nov. 22-27 at Mayo Civic Center.

Julie is the chairwoman for the festival this year and since January has been working on planning the event. Her work includes helping recruit volunteers — of which there are 800 — planning and facilitating meetings with the 26 committee chair people and a variety of other tasks.

During the week of the festival, Julie will be there every day, providing whatever assistance she can.

"It's just so much fun to be part of Festival of Trees," she said. "I feel like we're giving back to the community by providing such a beautiful place for people to go during the holidays."


Julie also volunteers for Opportunity Services, another nonprofit that provides occupational and life skills training for people with disabilities. She has served on the Opportunity Services board for almost nine years.

In Owatonna, Julie spends time every week tagging and labeling clothes at the Steele County Clothesline, which provides clothing, household items and bedding for low-income people.

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