National Volunteer Week

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series recognizing recently honored “Volunteers of the Year” through the partner agencies of the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County.

For the past two years, 93-year-old Jay Destro has brought her “busy-bee” attitude to the Taft Center Program at Chautauqua Adult Day Care Centers. When asked why she volunteers, Destro replied, “I like to keep busy by helping others. It helps me stay young.”

Destro volunteers at the center’s lunch program by playing games with the older adults and socializing with participants. She also volunteers for RSVP.

“Jay is loved by everyone at the program and is always smiling and joking about picking up after others,” said Executive Director Frank Bercik. “Overall, she’s a real busy-bee that’s able to keep on giving to others, even at the age of 93.”

For proving that age is no indication of a person’s ability to help out, Destro is Chautauqua Adult Day Care Centers’ Volunteer of the Year.

The Chautauqua County Retired Senior Volunteer Program Volunteer of the Year is Don Nelson. Project Coordinator Brenda Weiler described Nelson as someone who could be the poster child for volunteerism.

“He really does embody meaningful service,” said Weiller. “This baby boomer is a superb example of how one person can make a difference.”

Nelson uses his acquired lifetime skills and wisdom to work within the community. He volunteers with the youth, disabled and senior populations. His time is spent helping out at CBA Vision, TRC, Hultquist Place and the Children’s Safety Village. When asked why he volunteers, Nelson simply said, “I like helping people. I like giving back.”

Ella Ames has a special connection with Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center; besides serving on the board there, her daughter, Elizabeth Starks, is the executive director. And as any doting parent does, Ames is more than happy to help her daughter and this agency out in more ways than one – in fact, many more. Ames is an active and dedicated volunteer who takes part in fundraising events, reads books to children and makes anonymous donations to help families in need.

“Ella is a strong presence, and her help is so crucial to the success of our organization,” said Starks. “Besides all of the volunteering and wisdom she provides, if she knows a family is struggling financially, she will make an anonymous donation on their behalf. She’s my role model, and I’m proud to call her mom.”

Marie Vos is Chautauqua Striders Volunteer of the Year. Marie loves hanging out with her mentee Carrie, and with her constant guidance, care and support, Carrie has grown into a self-sufficient, confident young woman who will graduate from Jamestown High School in June. Striders Mentoring Coordinator Lorraine Walker said Vos is proud to be a positive impact on Carrie’s life and future.

“Because Marie mentors Carrie after the school day is over, I don’t get to see them interact much,” said Walker. “But I do see the smile on Carrie’s face after she’s spent an evening with Marie. I’ve also heard her laughter as she shares stories.”

As for her part, Vos said, “Carrie gets nervous about her future – who doesn’t? I told her that we can still be friends even after she graduates, and besides – I’m not done learning from her yet.”

The United Way of Southern Chautauqua has partnered with other local United Ways and The Service Collaborative of WNY, Inc. to make available to local residents and nonprofits. While there are a dozen local organizations currently using the site to post volunteer opportunities, the goal is to add many more now that it is being publically launched in Chautauqua County.

“This site is available to any not-for-profit in Chautauqua County at no cost,” said Tory Irgang, UWSCC executive director. “The only requirement to set up a profile is a 501(c)(3) designation.”

VolunteerWNY works in partnership with hundreds of community-based organizations to provide volunteers with a variety of meaningful opportunities for service and leadership. Any 501(c)(3) organizations, schools, faith-based organizations and government agencies do not need to be a United Way Partner Agency to take advantage of the services offered by VolunteerWNY.

There are several benefits in partnering with VolunteerWNY. The quantity and diversity of opportunities listed in our database draws a large group of volunteers from the community. Volunteers have the ability to find projects by searching based on skills. interests, availability and other project attributes.

VolunteerWNY enables organizations to promote different types of opportunities including ongoing and one-time needs, date-specific and open-ended opportunities, projects for individuals and groups, and projects that require specific skills.

Organizations have the opportunity to manage recruitment efforts for various projects in different ways depending on the nature of the project such as projects that require training, screening, and/or individual scheduling you can allow volunteers to “indicate interest” online or for projects that are date and time specific and don’t require prior training or screening, you have the option to allow volunteers to “sign up” online.

Any organization interested in learning how they can use to market volunteer opportunities should contact United Way of Southern Chautauqua County at 483-1561.