Room Full of Superheroes

Today the county put on its Volunteer Recognition event at the Santa Rosa Veterans’ Building. This is an annual thing, always held towards the end of April (I think it must be National Volunteer Week, or something).

I had employees who volunteered many Saturdays during tax season to work with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance—VITA—program. This is our second year participating in VITA. We don’t have our official figures yet, but we think, in the site that was hosted in my building, that they processed about 64 tax returns and will bring those tax-payers, combined, about $80,000.

Way to stimulate the economy!

This is an exciting program. Many people don’t know about Earned Income Tax Credit or certain credits for child care, and with President Obama’s Work Pays and tax breaks, low income working families should see a little extra money coming in, which is nice when every part of the economic world is really scary.

So, I went to acknowledge my folks, who sat through turgid IRS training and sacrificed Saturdays just to help people they didn’t even know get tax refunds. But the event wasn’t just for VITA volunteers, it was for the county volunteers, all of them, and it was impressive. About 500 showed up. This is one-sixth of the 3,000 people who volunteer some time helping others in Sonoma County. Volunteering might mean being a Search and Rescue volunteer, or a dog-walker or “cat cuddler” at the animal shelters; it might mean being a friendly voice on the end of the phone who calls an elderly person who lives alone; it might mean reading to children who are in an emergency shelter, or making quilts for them. It might mean being an amateur radio operator who provides communication in the event of a natural disaster. For some, it means acting as a chaplain and bible study group leader at the jail. For others it’s teaching a 55 Alive Driving for Seniors class, or being an advocate for someone with HIV, or working a few hours a week as a translator at a clinic or county office.

The county knows how to utilize volunteers, and at this event, at least, they know how to throw a thank-you party. The coffee was donated by Taylor Maid, the food, “volunteered” by a local chef, included a carving station, chocolate chip cookies and brownies. The only things missing were the scrumptious chocolate covered strawberries from last year. Balloon bouquets in green and blue filled the space and two large green and blue balloon arches bracketed the room. Each volunteer filled out a raffle card and the bulk of the event was raffling off the prizes donated by local businesses. One of my folks won a fabulous prize! Then she thought it was one of the grand prizes, and made her daughter take it back to the prize table, only to find that they had reshuffled the prizes and she was allowed to keep it.

On the stage, running on continuous loop, was a slide show of Sonoma County volunteers; everyday extraordinary people doing everyday, extraordinary things.

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