Sarah “Sippi” Sipe poses for a photo with Gladys Thomas, mother of Lance and Terry Thomas. Gladys celebrated her 93rd birthday in July and has lived in Big Sky with her sons and her daughter-in-law, Mary Goodson, for more than 20 years. Gladys is currently at the Madison Valley Manor recovering from a broken arm as a result of a fall. “She's my favorite person in Big Sky, she's a total rock star, and I love her dearly!!” Sipe wrote to the Lookout in a request to use this image. PHOTO COURTESY SARAH SIPE

Sara "Sippi" Sipe

Finding the right ways to give back

I asked Sarah “Sippi” Sipe to sit down with me, delay the comfort of her home and cuddles with her cat –Tom Newberry – and to share stories of her abundant volunteer work. We spoke at end of day in the conference room of her accounting office when most people were gone – the faintest tapping of keys on one lonely computer could be heard. After I set down, pen, paper and computer in hand, I glanced-up to see she was beaming and had placed a well organized list on the table. “I'm just so excited,” she said. “We have so many opportunities to give back in this community!”

Volunteering has been such a part of her life since Sipe was a child that it is almost intrinsic to who she is. “I find personal enjoyment from volunteering: it makes me feel good. It's part of how I was raised. We were raised to be kind to people,” she said.

It took real effort for her to understand why anyone would not want to volunteer, but she developed a few theories.

“What I have found is I think oftentimes people want to help, but they don't know how to start. They think it's going to be too big of a time commitment or it's going to be too regimented,” she said. “Or they think it's going to cost them money they don't necessarily have available.”  

She insisted that everyone is capable of doing something and that sometimes it's just a matter of finding the right fit.

Sipe organized her list of community contributions based on time and financial investment. She said it's not just a matter of being open to needs in the community, but also recognizing opportunities on Facebook and in conversations with friends.

On the lower end of time and financial commitment is gathering food scraps in gallon bags for the local nonprofit Big Sky Bird Rescue – which rescues and rehabilitates injured birds.

“When I had a bunch of baggies of food scraps, I would contact the bird lady. The benefit of that is that there was very little time, effort or cost to me and it was a huge benefit to that organization because their primary expense is the cost of feeding rescue animals,” she said.

Another example of minimal time investment was when she was scrolling through Facebook and came across a post from a high school classmate who works at a school in rural North Dakota where 100 percent of the student population is Native American.

“They're a really economically challenged community,” she said. “I asked what the kids need. They said, 'Believe it or not, these kids will do anything for new socks.' That broke my heart.”
Sipe’s friend said teachers and aides can get students to fully participate in class by using socks as rewards. Students from kindergarten through 12th grade respond similarly to the prospect of new socks by becoming better behaved and more attentive.

“I went online and found a wholesale sock supplier. For approximately $350 I was able to have mailed to her over 600 pairs of socks, some of them name brand,” Sipe said. “It makes me sad to think that kids have new socks on their wish-lists. We are so privileged – it's gross.”

Sipe also manages the Facebook page for American Legion Post 99 and was instrumental in launching off-season bingo held at the Gallatin Riverhouse as well as the Legion's participation in the Big Sky Farmers Market, selling Treasure State all natural raw honey.

Sipe financially contributes to Tsering's Fund which was created and is operated by Dr. Pete Schmeiding. “Their primary goal is to educate girls in Nepal and keep them out of the sex trade,” she said.

On a different level of time and financial commitment for Sipe is the Rotary Club of Big Sky: the group meets once a week, has an annual membership fee, encourages additional volunteer hours and also has some out-of-pocket expenses.

“The things Rotary does for Big Sky are pretty amazing,” Sipe said, listing them off, from the Giving Tree in the post office each Christmas to being responsible for the installation of emergency call boxes in the canyon, the installation of kayak launches on Moose Creek, partnering with other local businesses in the creation of the new park in the Town Center, as well as the primary goal of Rotary International: eradicating polio worldwide.  

Sipe is taking a slight step back from Rotary as she prepares for the next great venture: reestablishing the American Legion Auxiliary group which hasn't been active in Big Sky since 2008. The American Legion Auxiliary is made-up of all females who are descendants of, related to or married to veterans or active military. She outlined the major objectives of the American Legion Auxiliary: to support and advocate for veterans, active military and their families and to promote patriotism and responsible citizenship.

“That's the mission of the auxiliary, but the nuts and bolts of it is we help raise money for the American Legion,” she said. “Big Sky has the American Legion Post 99 of Big Sky; Sons of the American Legions Squadron 99 of Big Sky and hopefully soon the American Legion Auxiliary.”

Toward the end our our meeting, Sipe reiterated that while all communities have opportunities to volunteer, Big Sky specifically is overflowing with possibilities to contribute time, money or skills.

“If – together – we can inspire just a handful of people to do something; to try volunteering, then we will have succeeded. That will make me happy,” she said with a wide grin.

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