At the Volunteer Recognition event, I sat across from two of the Quilt Ladies. They are part of a collective of about 200 women (about 100 core members) who make quilts for various groups, including the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home. Any child who is taken out of their own home because of abuse or neglect, or is removed from a foster placement that isn’t working, and spends a night at the Children’s Home gets their own quilt. The Quilt Ladies have sewn hundreds of quilts for kids over the years. Many foster kids come back to visit the Children’s Home as adults, and they say they still have their quilts.
Myrna, the lady sitting directly across from me, said they also make quilts for the neo-natal unit at Sutter Hospital, and for Vandenberg Air Force Base. They’ve just started making quilts for the soldiers coming home at Travis Air Force Base. “Those are gurney-sized,” she said, “Because that’s what they’re bringing them home on.”
I shivered. “That’s awful.”
“No, it’s not. They’re doing much better these days, the kids who come back. The care is better,” she said.
“I meant that it’s great they get a quilt,” I said. “It’s awful that they’re shaped to fit a gurney.”
“Not so awful,” she said, looking at the bright side. “They go a lot faster than the queen-sized ones.”
This year’s event, while not No Frills, was definitely Fewer Frills. The bright towering balloon sculptures—like the palm trees one year, and the rainbow another—were non-existent. Well, the county is facing a $61 million shortfall. I guess they think balloon sculptures would be hard to explain to a cash-strapped taxpaying public. There were handmade tissue-paper flowers on the tables, and the food looked good, and the raffle prizes, all donated, were wonderful.
Even if the event was less fancy, the county still commits to thanking the hundreds of people who help out every single day.
Five hundred volunteers were invited to be honored. The new County Administrator, Veronica Ferguson, said during her speech, “Even if next year all you get is coffee and doughnuts, we will still say thank you.”
I attended this year because of a volunteer in my own division, Maxine. A few months earlier, we had submitted a write-up for Maxine to be considered an Outstanding Volunteer. Maxine helps people who are getting General Assistance apply for, and provide the documentation for, Supplement Security Income (SSI). General Assistance is a minimalistic public assistance program, paid for 100% by the county, that provides a payment for basics such as clothing, food and shelter. With housing costs what they are in our county, GA does not really pay for shelter costs. The maximum benefit for GA is $541. The maximum SSI benefit is $830.
SSI is for people who are disabled. Common wisdom says that people who don’t go all the way through the SSI application process must just not be disabled, or not “disabled enough.” Actually, in many cases it’s the opposite; they are so disabled and have so many problems that they can’t complete the process on their own.
SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration. They have the distinction of being more bureaucratic than we are. People shouldn’t wonder why a brain-injured man in his thirties, sleeping in a nest of acacia trees, with no calendar, computer, no watch and no car, can’t complete his SSI application on his own. It should be obvious. Fortunately for him, Maxine can help him. If he can come to our office, which is on the bus line, Maxine can help him get his medical records together, finish up the forms, call Social Security for him to see what else is needed, and get everything mailed.
Last year Maxine (and paid staff) helped over 100 people qualify for SSI.
For those people, Maxine is the difference between surviving, and surviving with hope.
Maxine did not know we had included her in the nominations, and the look on her face when her name was called was priceless. She was one of more than 20 volunteers who were called up to receive a certificate. I am not including a picture of her because I don’t want to invade her privacy.
Maxine and the Quilt Ladies provide hope and a lifeline to people. So do the volunteers who staff 211, the county’s Information and Referral hotline. Many volunteers are reservists with police and fire departments; many do search and rescue, risking their own lives to provide for other people’s safety. There is an entire equestrian volunteer group. Some people act as chaplains; some visit prisoners (I was surprised how many do bible study with prisoners); some help in offices or develop and maintain websites. Volunteers help at the local libraries. Some tutor or teach in programs like Teen Parent Connections. Some help out at the Animal Shelters—by helping clean kennels, feeding the animals and some by walking, playing with and petting the dogs and cats that are up for adoption.
It seemed like we had volunteers for every county function except tax collection.
The volunteers at this year’s event were all ages; people in their seventies, kids not yet in their teens who are learning to be ham radio operators, or help with the animals at the shelter. If you think volunteering would enrich you, seek out the Volunteer Center in your area and see what they have available. No matter what your interest is, there is bound to be something.
And frankly, if the county can’t afford balloon sculptures next year, maybe they could ask some of us to chip in. I’d pony up. These folks deserve more than a “thank you.” They deserve a celebration. They deserve balloons.