Freely We Serve…

No comments

Volunteers in Oakland

By Jacqueline Fortier Noble ’87

Freely we serve,
Because we freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall.

-John Milton

Over 7,200 men and women serve as volunteers through official Oakland programs. The numbers of volunteers through private organiza­tions are uncounted. “Official” volunteers work with Oakland citizens, elected officials, city staff, representatives from local businesses, and community organi­zations to extend the services of the city through their freely given efforts.

Volunteers for Oakland is a unit within the Office of Personnel Resources Management. It coordinates the Commu­nity Service Volunteer Program to pro­vide person-to-person services for Oak­land residents and visitors.

Because of this unit, the City of Oak­land has its Community Clean-Up Pro­jects, Family Companion Program, Museum Exhibits, Oakland Tours Pro­gram, Senior Companion Program, Sen­ior Olympics, and many other activities.

The City receives approximately 30 to 40 telephone calls every week from citizens who want to help. According to Arnita Fermin, ’79, who is the Volunteer Coordinator for five city departments as well as the Programs Coordinator for Oakland Tours, the most frequent ques­tion is “What opportunities do you have?” She works with the volunteers and the various city departments to find the right match for those willing to serve and the areas of need. Arnita reports, “Most assignments vary from three to fif­teen hours per week, and volunteers are asked to make a minimum of a three­ month commitment.” She adds that offices are flexible in working with indi­vidual schedules.

Brenda Ivy is the Volunteer Coordi­nator for ten city departments and she coordinates the annual Volunteer Recog­nition Ceremony. Each year the mayor of the city and City Council members honor outstanding volunteers with plaques and certificates. It is a measure of community involvement that special recognition went to at least 2,000 people who volun­teered to help during and after last year’s devastating fire storm.

If you want to boast about the City of Oakland, then Oakland Tours is the per­fect volunteer opportunity. Tour guides for the program must complete a nine­-week Oakland History course through Laney College. The course is offered through the Oakland Tours program. Those who complete the program become volunteer guides, giving free walking tours through some of the fasci­nating areas of the city. Walking tours cover Old Oakland, City Center, Uptown to the Lake, Preservation Park, China­town, Jack London Waterfront, and vari­ous churches and temples. The tours are perfect summer outings for all age groups and a great way to learn about your own community.

Summer is always challenging to par­ents. School is out and students need activities to keep them occupied. Oak­land does provide the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program, but, unfortunately, Arnita says, “Not all students qualify.” There is another avenue for teenagers in Oakland. Oakland’s local television station, KTOP, and KDOL, Channel 13, uses student vol­unteers during the vacation months. The Science Center in Oakland also looks for teenagers who want to serve. A major opportunity for students comes from Oakland’s Parks and Recreation. The department uses peer counselors, day camp counselors, and camp counselors. My own two sons participated in sum­mer camp for several years. When they were old enough, they volunteered to be counselors. They received on-the-job training and continued in that service for several years.

Oaklanders know that getting involved in community outreach is rewarding. People volunteer for many reasons: students gain work experience; professionals want to lend a specialized skill; some want to volunteer for a spe­cific event or function; and volunteer work looks good on any resume. Giving back to the community is the reason I give my own time as a volunteer.

My personal story as a volunteer is one of pride. I volunteer for Second Start, the City of Oakland’s Adult Literacy pro­gram. When I first started teaching, I didn’t know what to expect—all I knew was that I had just completed my training and I was armed with enthusiasm.

For the past year I have been working with Mrs. Vernadine Hines, whose determination makes me proud to be a volunteer. At our first meeting, we dis­cussed her background to decide where we needed to start. I learned that she could read at fourth grade level and had good comprehension skills, but that her knowledge of phonics and her writing and spelling skills were not developed. I also learned that her ambition was not only to learn to read better but to improve her writing and her spelling. She and her sister in Louisiana communicate primarily through letter-writing, and Mrs. Hines is eager to initiate her own letters.

Twice a week, we go through our rit­uals of developing writing and spelling skills, phonics skills, word recognition skills, and comprehension skills. She keeps me on my toes by asking lots of
questions and badgers me for explana­tions. Her biggest challenge is phonics—­recognizing sounds and their rules doesn’t come easy for her—but she is determined. She is always early for our meetings and always ready to embark upon the day’s work.

Giving back to the community, in any capacity, could be one of your biggest challenges and most rewarding experi­ences. It has certainly been that way for me. I expect it has been that way for the more that 7,000 other Oaklanders who volunteer in this city.

Jacqueline Noble ’87, is a member of the Quarterly Board. She was editor of The Weekly during her senior year at Mills. She is on the staff of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab­oratory and lives in Oakland.