We Love Volunteers!!!

By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Clubhouse Five in Laguna Woods Village is a big place, but only barely big enough to hold the close to 600 generous people who were honored at Age Well’s 16th Annual Volunteer Recognition Luncheon Wednesday.  Mrs. McD and I got there at 12:45 thinking we were early, but no way. The parking lot was already in over flow mode and from the far end of the entrance hall we could hear the buzz and laughter of animated conversations.  When we looked inside, being honored seemed to be the farthest thing from the volunteers’ minds. They just wanted to have fun and enjoy one of Jolanda’s legendary lunches.

Some of the nearly 600 honorees

A series of speakers welcomed the volunteers and thanked them for all the good they do: Age Well CEO Dr. Marilyn Ditty, Board of Directors President Doug Zielasko, and Shirley Witt from the Florence Sylvester Senior Center.  In any other circumstance three thank you speeches, no matter how brief, might seem redundant, but not in this case.  These are people you just can’t thank enough.

The Meals on Wheels volunteers pack and deliver more than 450,000 meals to seniors every year. The remaining nutrition volunteers help set up and serve Congregate Lunches and clean up afterwards. Other volunteers assist at senior centers in a variety of ways: answering phones, staffing the reception desk, doing clerical tasks, serving as activities instructors and assistants, helping seniors in Adult Day Services and at the Alzheimer’s Treatment Center, and last but far from least, doing fundraising.

Mrs. McD calculated that if instead of having volunteers we hired all these people at minimum wage, it would cost Age Well more than $400,000 a year for the nutrition volunteers alone. “That’s just hourly pay,” Mrs. McD said at the time.  “On top of that you have to pay Social Security and other such payroll taxes.  Pretty soon that amount is over half a mill.” It’s an irony, she added, that while they are happy to volunteer at no pay, if these talented people really wanted to earn money, they wouldn’t have to settle for anything close to minimum wages.

But volunteering isn’t only about saving the Benjamins. Just as important, it’s about sharing human contact with seniors, too many of whom have few friends or family nearby. Meals drivers get to do this every day, and so do volunteers in senior centers and day care settings.  That care means a lot to seniors.  Last year at a musical performance I watched as a volunteer helped an elderly lady move to a chair closer to the performer.  The lady had been pretty stoical up to that point, but when the volunteer assisted her, she said “Thank you” several times and beamed at her with a smile that could have melted the snowcap on an Austrian alp. 

We asked some site managers what volunteers mean to their operations.

“They are the heart and soul of Age Well Senior Services and the Dana Point Senior Center,” said Dana Point’s Vanna Murphy. “Their dedication, compassion and love of seniors makes a difference in the clients’ everyday life.”

“Age Well or any of the senior centers would not be able to exist without our army of volunteers,” said Shirley Witt of the Florence Sylvester Senior Center where volunteers range in age from 97 all the way down to 18. “Age Well is the nucleus and our volunteers are the heartbeat of our organization.”

Among those recognized were the following:

Evie Love from Dana Point who received a pin for 25 years of volunteering. “I love the work,” she said.  “I love you all,” she exclaimed to the audience.

Sande Conant from Rancho Santa Margarita who was named Ambassador of the Year.

• Thirteen individuals who were named Volunteer of the Year from their respective sites:

Adult Day Center, Jeff McCrory

Dana Point, Luigi LaValle, Congregate Meals

Laguna Beach, Linda Chazan, Congregate Meals

Laguna Beach, Sylvia McGregor, Congregate Meals

Laguna Hills (Florence Center), Irving Garber, Meals on Wheels

Laguna Hills (Florence Center), James Taylor, Congregate Meals

Laguna Niguel, Toby Curry, Meals on Wheels

Mission Hospital (Laguna Beach), John Keith, Meals on Wheels

Mission Viejo, Kay Palmieri, Congregate Meals

Oasis, Rachel Wolcott, Meals on Wheels

Rancho Santa Margarita, Sande Conant, Meals on Wheels and Congregate Meals

San Clemente, Trish Troffer, Meals on Wheels

San Juan Capistrano, Pauline Marshall

Musical entertainment was provided by Gustav Holst, Alexander Borodin, Antonin Dvorak, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Okay, I admit it, those dudes are all dead, but the wonderfully talented Pacific Symphony string quartet performed flawless renditions of some of their compositions and followed those up with two jazz interpretations. The ensemble was present thanks to a new collaboration between Age Well and Pacific Symphony’s Heart Strings, an outreach program that for the past eight years has linked the Orange County symphonic jewel with a variety of nonprofits.

The Pacific Symphony String Quartet (from left) violinists Nancy Eldridge and Alice Wrate, cellist Ian McKinnell, and violist Cheryl Gates.

Also entertaining was “Rock ‘N’ Country” singer Doug Houston who belted out a pair of patriotic numbers.

Shirley Witt emceed much of the event, threatening at one point to play the violin and later to sing. As it turned out her real talent may not be in music but in standup comedy.

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

Monday, June 3: Clyde Wright Invitational Golf Tournament. Benefiting Meals on Wheels and other Senior Services. 11 a.m. shotgun start at the Aliso Viejo Country Club. Golf plus continental breakfast, box lunch, buffet dinner, and prizes for contests.  For more info, call (949) 855-8033.

Saturday, June 29: Casino Night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods Village. For $25, you get admission, $100 in play money, a bountiful snack table, and the opportunity to win some great raffle prizes. This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Florence Sylvester Center, thanks to the generosity of many individuals and businesses and the outstanding support of Saddleback Kiwanis. Tickets available at the door and at the Florence Sylvester Senior Center

Comments are closed.