California Volunteers
CaliforniaVolunteers Newsletter - November 2007

CaliforniaVolunteers Response to Southern California Fires

Southern California Fires: How you can help Southern California experienced one of the most destructive natural disasters in recent memory in the form of raging wildfires. The massive fires scorched over 800 square miles and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. The fires, which were fanned by powerful Santa Ana winds, required the evacuation of more than 500,000 residents before they were contained.

In response to these fires, CaliforniaVolunteers launched a Web portal, which contained information about the fires and connected Californians with volunteer opportunities to assist the disaster response efforts. More than 10,000 state residents registered with local volunteer centers such as Volunteer San Diego to assist those who were affected, with nearly 3,500 deployed to various disaster locations. In addition, more than 600 Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) members were deployed to assist in various duties ranging from medical assistance to donation management. More than 1,700 CERT and MRC members are standing by to augment the response and relief efforts.

Private citizens where not the only ones who responded to this tragedy, answering Maria Shriver's Call to Action, various large businesses combined to donate over $20 million to aide in the monumental task of rebuilding devastated areas.

Listen to Maria Shriver Discuss the Importance of Volunteerism to Assist Fire Victims Recover in Governor’s Weekly Radio Address

View message from CaliforniaVolunteers Executive Director, Karen Baker

CaliforniaVolunteers Commission Chairperson Michael Camuñez Stepping Down, Jeff Hoffman Named Acting Chairperson

Photo of Michael Nunez, Maria Shriver, and Karen Baker Due to his pending appointment to the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, CaliforniaVolunteers Commission Chairperson Michael Camuñez stepped down effective November 1.

CaliforniaVolunteers Commission, staff and partners owe Michael a debt of gratitude for his countless contributions and wish him continued success and happiness in the future.

Michael Camuñez is a partner in O'Melveny & Myers LLP's Los Angeles office. Prior to joining CaliforniaVolunteers, Camuñez served as a senior policy advisor for the Corporation for National Service in Washington, D.C., where he advised White House staff on policy and program development related to AmeriCorps. He also served as a program officer and director for the federal Commission on National & Community Service. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University and a juris doctorate degree from Stanford Law School.

Replacing Camuñez as acting chairperson, is current vice-chairperson, Jeffery Hoffman. Hoffman has worked for The Walt Disney Company since 1978 and is currently vice president of Disney Worldwide Outreach where he is responsible for worldwide community relations, volunteerism and the division's finance and administration. He is a board member of the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the Points of Light Foundation & Volunteer Center National Network.

CaliforniaVolunteers Offering Neighborhood Emergency Training, Sign Up Today!

WE Prepare logo Neighborhood Emergency Response Training (NET) is a two-hour basic disaster preparedness workshop designed to assist community members develop, practice and maintain personal emergency plans before, during and after a natural disaster, terrorist attack, flu pandemic or other emergency. The NET curriculum can be delivered to any type of audience and provides an overview of disaster preparedness information that can enable anyone to create a plan for themselves, their family and their loved ones.

This is a free training.

To learn more about trainings available in your area, visit CaliforniaVolunteers.org

CaliforniaVolunteers Announces Winners of “Find It. Do It. Share It.” Contest

Girls carrying boxes California Volunteers announced two statewide winners of the statewide "Find it. Do it. Share it." Contest:

Nancy Denan of San Diego and Osnat (Nati) Oron of San Rafael. The Walt Disney Company sponsored contest encouraged Californians to submit their personal volunteer stories in an effort to inspire others to find a service opportunity that matches their interest, do something to help make a difference and share their experience with others.

All “Find it. Do it. Share it.” contest entries were judged based on originality, creativity and relevance to the contest theme. The winning contest entries were chosen by CaliforniaVolunteers from a pool of statewide finalists selected by local volunteer organizations throughout California. Nati Oron was selected as a finalist by the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership of Marin and Nancy Denen was selected as a finalist by Volunteer San Diego. Both Contest winners received a trip for four to the Disneyland Resort and an opportunity to participate in a volunteer project with Disney VoluntEARS for National Family Volunteer Day on November 17th.

Osnat (Nati) Oron

When I was nine, my parents decided it was time for my family to move. So we packed up our bags, said goodbye to family and friends, and boarded an airplane that took us half way around the world and released us in California.

I remember it was Christmas, and all the stores were full of presents and lights and decorated in Christmas colors. That was my first glimpse of Christmas, and it was just as glamorous as the movies depicted. We drove down the streets, with the trees adorned with lights and couples holding hands and I remember thinking that America must actually be as wonderful as everyone promised it would be.

But that mentality did not last long. School started, and I stepped into a world I didn’t understand. English sounded like barbaric mumblings, the writing on the board looked like strange drawings, and the people- the selfish, selfish people- were too much for me to handle.

My first year in America was hell. I suffered from such loneliness that I could never have comprehended before I felt it first-hand. I sat in class listening to sounds I did not understand. I read alone during lunch. I sat by myself during recess. I went home and spent all day trying to complete homework in a language I was not even close to understanding. I studied the spelling of words I did not even know the meaning of. I had to write stories in a foreign language. I had to learn how to write cursive when I didn’t even know print. It was hell.

It wasn’t only that the work was hard and that the only people I spoke to were my mom, dad, sister and brother. It was that I never before knew loneliness. I always had friends and I was part of a large family that met regularly and got alone wonderfully. I couldn’t understand why I was so hated. I couldn’t understand why everyone turned their backs on me.

That time passed, however. I slowly got friends, learned the language, and the all-consuming loneliness left me. I became active in volunteering, inspired by the despair I knew and wanted to prevent others from knowing. Since the beginning of my volunteer career, I have organized fundraisers, participated in community service activities, and spread awareness about important issues. I am now entering my fourth year as a member of the Community Action Team, a group of high school students committed to spreading volunteerism. I am president of three volunteer clubs at my school: START (Students Taking Action Real Time), a club dedicated to volunteering in general, STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), this is a chapter of a national organization dedicated to stopping the genocide in Darfur, and WOP (World Of Peace), a club dedicated to aiding peace activists around the world. I created a Peer Counseling Program at my school that is now being worked into the requirements of At Risk Students. I have spent a month working in an orphanage in Lima, Peru. I have helped organize classes about the importance of volunteerism and have taught middle school students about disaster preparedness. For three years now, I have organized a fundraiser called Race for Water, which is dedicated to raising money to build wells in Africa. Each year the profit from the race has doubled, and last year I had over 100 participants. And I still remember what inspired me to make change, for once you feel something so terrible, you can never go back into blissful ignorance.

I understand that the children in my class weren’t evil- they were just selfish. I know I would have been no less self absorbed if an American girl came to my school in Israel. But I also know that it is wrong. And I know that we, as humans, don’t grow out of that selfishness. We want our I-pods and our Mochas and our movies. We so easily forget all the people struggling in the world to survive. Three dollars can save a woman in Darfur for a year! A year!

And so I urge you to remember those you love. And I urge you to remember the times that you felt pain. And to act to help those that are still suffering. I know that part of what makes me such a committed volunteer is the fact that I know how it feels not to belong, not be cared for.

Feeling pain or loneliness or despair can sometimes teach us great lessons. I know it is so easy to just forget and be happy. But we can’t. We have to fight for each other because if you don’t fight when you are strong and happy, no one will fight for you when you are weak and sad.

Nancy Denan

The word “retirement” can insight various feelings in people. In 2004 I decided to retire from teaching Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. The joy of sitting in my pajamas leisurely sipping a cup of coffee in the morning instead of facing a group of teenagers at 7:30 a.m. sounded wonderful; however, teaching had been my passion since I was in sixth grade. I am a people-person, so what would I do with my life in retirement?

As my retirement was looming before me, my aging father became ill. I brought our cat to see her “Grandpa” and was surprised at all the people in his nursing home who wanted to pet the cat! My husband and I adopted a two-year old calico cat from a local animal shelter. The cat had been abandoned, so we do not know her history, but this cat loves humans – the older the better. We named her Moorea.

An article in our local paper announced a new chapter of Love on a Leash was looking for volunteers. Love on a Leash is a pet-provided non-charitable volunteer organization. Moorea and I signed up and started our training and became the first cat-human team in our chapter. Not too many felines care to be seen wearing a harness and walking on a leash. We made weekly visits to several health care centers. Oh, the smiles Moorea brought to the faces of the residents there. Monday afternoons became the highlight of our week. Many usually quiet people would talk at length about special pets they had in their youth. One woman was from Germany and had no relatives nearby. She called Moorea “my little mitzie” and “my loyal friend.” This woman passed away, but Moorea continued wanting to go in her room. They had a close bond. I would tell my husband how wonderful it was to share the joy of seeing smiles on weak elderly people’s faces and my husband would nod and say, “That’s nice, dear.”

One Sunday our church bulletin announced that The Elizabeth Hospice needed pet-therapy volunteers, so Moorea and I signed up. Now in addition to our various weekly visits, we would receive requests for visits to hospice patients who, in their last days, desired a cuddle and some purrs from a cat. Often adult children knew that their parent would appreciate such a visit. On occasion I had seen Moorea’s presence cause magical reactions from people. Elderly residents with very little affect would unfurl a clutched hand to pet the cat’s fur, for example. But one experience stays most clearly in my mind.

A social worker from The Elizabeth Hospice saw me in a facility and asked if I would stop by the room of one of her patients. This woman was dying and had very little response to anything. I went to the woman’s room and put Moorea next to her in her bed. I brought the woman’s hand to the fur on Moorea’s head. The woman opened her eyes, put her head up a bit so she could see the cat, and tried to vocalize! I thought the social worker was going to faint! Moorea and I were able to visit this woman two more times before she passed away. What a blessing to be able to bring a few moments of pleasure to this woman! I told my husband about the experience and he said, “Wow, that’s nice dear.”

Then two years later my husband retired from teaching. One day he decided to accompany Moorea and me on our weekly visit to one of our health care facilities. He witnessed the smiles and shining eyes of the elderly residents as they petted and talked to our cat. My husband accompanied me the next week and he began to feel the magic that a little cat on a leash can bring.

My husband went through the Love on a Leash training. He is now a certified member of both Love on a Leash and The Elizabeth Hospice. He is also a patient-companion for The Elizabeth Hospice and recently we both went through training together to become Hospice Last Watch volunteers. It is such a gift to be present when a person takes his/her last breath. Sometimes the dying person has no one to be with them and sometimes the family members need a break from the long watch. When I started volunteering with hospice I would have never dreamed I would be drawn to this type of volunteer work. I’ve learned so much from all the individuals and situations with hospice.

Are you looking for a way to share with others as you learn and grow yourself? I encourage people of all ages to find a way to share themselves through volunteering. Once you find it, share with others the joy you have found. Imagine how much better our world would be if everyone tithed at least one hour of his or her week to volunteering. And being a Baby Boomer, I know our generation still harbors a passion for change in our world – let’s do it by sharing our time, talents, and selves through volunteering.

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