Doing good in the neighborhood
Ryan Summerlin May 24, 2012
While some residents spend the quieter May days vacationing, others choose to volunteer, instead. Want to help out but not sure which organization is right for you? Here’s a spotlight on a few organizations you may not know about. Check back on Monday to read more about local volunteer opportunities in part two of this series.
Volunteers who seek out the Court Appointed Special Advocates program are looking to truly make an impact, said Kathy Reed, the program’s executive director.
“One volunteer said that she was looking for a volunteer experience that meant something, not just a one-day opportunity,” Reed said. “(She wanted to) invest in the lives of others.”
CASA trains volunteers to be “friends of the court” who perform an independent investigation into the lives of children who are involved in the welfare court system. After the investigation, volunteers make a recommendation in the child’s best interest and help them find permanent homes as soon as possible. Reed said that children who go through the court system with a CASA volunteer have cases that are closed sooner, get access to more resources and the likelihood that they return to the court system is less than 10 percent.
“We have volunteers from all walks of life,” Reed said. “We’re looking for people who have the ability to be objective, somewhat autonomous, have the ability to use investigative skills and have a heart for at-risk children and youth.”
Being a CASA volunteer is challenging, but many find the experience to be life changing.
“People don’t realize that children are being abused right next door,” Reed said. “When (someone from) CASA comes in and sees that this is happening, they never anticipated the change that they could make in the lives of these children.”
Reed hopes that one day every child who enters the court system will have their own CASA volunteer. She has seen firsthand the difference the program can make for both children and their families.
“CASA allows the community to have input into what’s happening in children’s lives,” Reed said. “Most importantly, we stop the cycle of abuse … I think we can stop that cycle of abuse for generations to come.”
We’re experiencing an “age wave” when it comes to the number of senior citizens in our community, according to Healthy Aging Program Coordinator Carly Rietmann. Eagle County is one of the top counties in the state that will see significant growth in the age 65-and-older population in the next 10 to 20 years.
Volunteers with the Healthy Aging program serve lunches at the county’s senior sites, deliver meals to those still in their homes, and help transport seniors to medical appointments. Those with specific skills, such as massage therapy or nail painting, also donate their time and talents.
“A lot of people don’t realize that we have so many seniors,” Rietmann said. “(We) really want to make a difference in people’s lives and help them stay in their homes as long as possible.”
One of the program’s goals is to keep seniors “healthy and active,” Rietmann said.
Rietmann also oversees RSVP, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. RSVP helps local residents over the age of 55 find volunteer opportunities in the area.
For retired senior Andy Vesque, joining RSVP gave her the boost she needed after leaving the workforce behind. Vesque’s husband was disabled for 20 years and she saw how much the Eagle County’s services helped out her own family. In addition to delivering lunches, Vesque often drives seniors to doctor’s visits as far as Denver and Grand Junction.
“I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have my time,” Vesque said. “When I retired and didn’t have a job to go to, I sunk in a hole; your world closes down… (RSVP) helped me open up my world again.”
The Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability volunteers will put in hundreds of hours this summer to hopefully get down to “Zero.” They’ve recently started a “Zero Waste” Station program, which aims to help the community’s large events cut down on waste and eliminate trash. One of the first “Zero Waste” events this year was Taste of Vail in April. The Alliance staffed booths where people could recycle or compost their food and cutlery. Volunteers were also hand on talk to attendees about the importance of sustainability.
“Most people don’t know that when food goes to a landfill, it doesn’t really break down,” said Tracy Anderson, executive director of the Eagle Valley Alliance. “It generates methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas.”
Groups of volunteers are needed this summer to help run these “Zero Waste” Stations. During large events the town of Vail will now take all food scraps and compost them. In addition to this, all vendors are required to use compostable bowls, plates and utensils. Anderson hopes that the Alliance’s efforts will serve as a model for other communities when it comes to sustainability and environmental awareness.
“These events bring thousands of people to town,” Anderson said. “It’s always a good venue for doing public education and outreach to prevent a lot of trash from going to the landfill … (we want) these to become events that other towns will look at and say, ‘I want to be like Vail.”