VolunteerRaleigh: Heart of the City
By Carol Wills, Photography by Davies Photography
Jeanette Golden was an AmeriCorps volunteer in college, and enjoyed it so much that after graduation, she applied to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the City of Raleigh. That was five years ago, and Golden is now a community specialist for the Community Engagement Division of the Housing and Neighborhoods Department. “I’m passionate about service,” says Golden. “I enjoy that I get to share in the spirit of volunteerism through my work with the Senior Corps Programs.” These programs include the Foster Grandparents, RSVP (formerly the Retired Senior Volunteer Program) and Senior Companions, an organization made up of seniors helping seniors – seeing that people get to medical appointments, checking in with them to make sure they’re all right, and providing pleasant companionship.
Perhaps the most important part of Golden’s job as a VISTA volunteer was to implement a volunteer program to connect Raleigh citizens with partnering community agencies. The program that she started, Volunteer Raleigh, is the go-to place for people who are interested in building a resume, giving back to the community, or who are looking for a useful and meaningful way to spend time in retirement.
Golden’s program is the hub that helps people find opportunities appropriate to their skills and interests. Three volunteer programs that come under the city’s umbrella are Foster Grandparents, the Police Department and Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources.
Golden speaks with deep appreciation for the many hours that senior volunteers have donated to the Foster Grandparents program. “We have about 78 active grandparents who serve 30 schools,” she notes. “We partner not only with the Wake County Public School System, but also with several Early Education Centers and charter schools.” Foster Grandparents provides children with one-on-one help with classwork and homework, as well as giving them emotional and social support. Foster Grandparents commit to spending about four hours a day, five days a week with the children they are assigned to help.
The Foster Grandparents program is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service and is sponsored by the City of Raleigh. The city has been supporting this program for more than 35 years. Ms. Carolyn Blaylock (known as Grandma B.) is one of the most outstanding volunteers in this program. She has been volunteering at Bugg Elementary School for four years. “The most important reason I volunteer is that I love being with the children,” she says. She’s speaking of five- and six-year-olds in Ms. Sonya Mitchiner’s classroom. Grandma B. comes to the school for six hours every day and works with two children at a time. She loves sitting down with the kids and working with them to learn reading, writing and spelling. Sometimes she sings to them. “They need love,” says Grandma B. “And in turn, they keep me energized.”
“She comes every day, ready to teach my children,” says Mitchiner. “She constantly goes above and beyond the call of duty to make sure the children are successful. Since I don’t have a teaching assistant, there are a lot of things I just couldn’t do if it weren’t for Grandma B.,” Mitchiner says Grandma B. is also a great mentor to other foster grandparents. Positive by nature, she encourages the students to approach her without hesitation.
Grandma B. was recognized at the 42nd Annual Senior Corps Awards Banquet as the 2016 Unsung Hero of the year. She was chosen for the energy and personality she brings to her work. When she was forced to be absent while recovering from knee surgery last year, she called into her classroom every Tuesday and Thursday to stay in touch with her students and keep them motivated to stay on track.
Raleigh Police Department
The Raleigh Police Department also uses volunteers, and Bruce Embry, who retired as a Lieutenant in the Raleigh Police Department in 2005, has been the volunteer coordinator for this program since 2009.
Embry oversees one set of volunteers who do patrols, using volunteer cars equipped with radios, computer terminals and yellow lights. They radio for help for stalled vehicles, assist at accident scenes, move traffic cones and flares, and carry jump boxes to help motorists with dead batteries. There are about 12 such volunteers currently, and they can see every call that comes in from anywhere in the city on their car computers. They wear distinctive uniforms and are not required to do anything dangerous, or anything that requires a police officer. They are off the streets by 11pm at night. Their assistance frees regular police officers to concentrate on the situations that require their training and authority.
Some Police Department volunteers assist with office work, act as interpreters, work with the service center outfitting police cars, or help in the Youth and Family Services Department – or wherever clerical skills are needed.
Embry goes to meetings to publicize the need for volunteers, and also follows up on referrals from other volunteers or people who contact him through the internet. He processes the applications, conducting background checks and determining whether the prospective volunteer is a “people person.” All prospective volunteers must be fully vetted before they are accepted into the volunteer program. All must commit to serving at least 15 hours per month. Embry says, “We’ve got a great group of people and I’m very proud to be associated with them.”
Embry singles out for special recognition a volunteer named Ann Sides, who currently works as a volunteer in the Family Violence Intervention Unit on Oberlin Road. Sides, whose previous career involved 28 years of working as a Foreign Service Officer for the US State department and as a consular officer in nine different countries, has donated 1,300 hours of volunteer work since 2011.
A New Englander by birth, Sides and her husband chose to retire to North Carolina, attracted by the cultural and educational opportunities offered in the Triangle area. “Once we got settled,” she remembers, “I wanted to volunteer somehow. I missed the pleasure of helping people as in my previous job. I missed the human contact.”
She applied to the City of Raleigh for a position in the Police volunteer program. She was assigned to the Family Violence Intervention Unit, which is in the Interact Building in Raleigh. “It’s a place where people can come for legal, social and law enforcement services – all under one roof,” she says. In her present position, Sides is able to assist police officers with phone calls and routine reports.
In addition, she has participated in role-playing used to train prospective police officers at the Police Academy in dealing with domestic disturbances. She also helps with various ceremonies, events such as concerts at the Red Hat Arena, and the Christmas, New Year’s Day and 4th of July parades in downtown Raleigh. “The people I work with are wonderfully hard-working and compassionate,” she says. Having worked in this division for five years, it’s safe to say Sides deserves the same compliment herself.
Capitol Area Greenway Volunteers
Embry also supervises the Capitol Area Greenway Volunteers. There are currently 79 volunteers who patrol the 127 miles of greenway in Raleigh. They sign up for at least eight hours per month. Volunteers wear a distinctive orange shirt with the city logo on it or a chartreuse reflective vest. Their purpose is to make the greenways safer for the many people who enjoy walking or riding bikes. Speaking of the greenway volunteers, Embry says, reassuringly, “We don’t chase people, don’t put hands on people. We give directions, hand out maps, and call in reports of problems such as downed tree limbs blocking the trails. In the case of emergencies, we call 911 and report our location, using the mile markers on the greenway to help the officers find us.”
Another volunteer program that draws people’s attention and enthusiasm is the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Volunteer Program. Ashley Deans is the Resource Development Manager for this program, which offers opportunities for individuals, corporate volunteers, church groups, scouts, community organizations and school groups to contribute time, talents and resources. Volunteers in this program assist with park plantings, trail maintenance, special events, youth athletics, recreation classes, ESL classes and the Adopt-a-Park program. Over the past year, the program had 13,117 individuals volunteer 122,817 hours of service, the value of which is calculated to be $2.83 million. “I have the best job in the city,” says Deans. “I interact with volunteers every day and see the impact they make.”
Other volunteer programs within the city of Raleigh include the Stormwater Management Volunteer Program, Recycling Block Leaders and the opportunity to serve on City Boards, Commissions and Committees. There are also five chaplains on call to serve officers in crisis or families in emergency situations.
If you feel inspired to volunteer your services to the City of Raleigh, contact Jeanette Golden (Jeanette.firstname.lastname@example.org) and let her help you find exactly the right volunteer position to make the best use of your talents.