Article President’s Message L. Dennis Michael

The Extraordinary Value of Volunteers

This month, Western City focuses on community services and the volunteers who contribute their time, talent and enthusiasm to help others and make their city a better place to live, work and play. Award-winning projects in Cathedral City and Rocklin offer excellent examples of volunteer-based projects.

My city, Rancho Cucamonga (pop. 172,299), benefits from volunteers’ help in numerous ways. Volunteers play key roles in many municipal departments, including community services, library services, public works, police, fire, animal services and community improvement (also known as code enforcement).

The city’s website serves as the primary point of contact for volunteers and provides an overview of the various opportunities as well as an application form. From July 2014 to June 2015, the city logged 56,000 hours of volunteer time.

Here’s a look at just a few ways that community volunteers make a difference in Rancho Cucamonga.

Friends of the Library

This group comprises 75 to 80 residents who volunteered a total of 14,953 hours in 2015. The Friends of the Library operates two full-service bookstores that raise funds to purchase new children’s books for our libraries and provide substantial annual support to the adult literacy
program. In 2015, the Friends of the Library generated approximately $11,000 per month for the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library and raised more than $130,000 total. Since 1994, this group has raised over $2 million for the library.

These volunteers also attend many of the library’s major events. They participate in the Summer Reading Program and the city’s Cultural Arts Nights, which include Asian Pacific Islander Night, Hispanic Heritage Night and Local History Night. The Friends of the Library sells books and other materials at many of these events to raise money that directly supports the library.

Back to Basics Literacy Program

This program’s volunteer workforce of 25 to 35 community members contributed 1,447 hours in 2015. They continue to provide free tutoring to help improve the basic reading, writing and study skills of elementary school students who are reading below grade level.

In 2015, roughly 125 students enrolled in the Back to Basics Literacy Program. Of those 125 students, 89 percent improved comprehension skills, 84 percent improved phonics skills and 92 percent improved their sight word recognition skills. Volunteers assist with two annual workshops designed to educate parents on literacy skills they can use at home.

These volunteers also assist with two science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workshops each year that focus on robotics and experiments with electricity and other science-related projects.

Adult Literacy Program

Twelve volunteers gave 931 hours to the Adult Literacy Program in 2015, providing individual tutoring to adults who are reading below a 6th-grade level. The volunteer tutors help adult learners improve their literacy skills so they can reach their personal and professional goals, such as passing the General Educational Development (GED) test, filling out a job application or reading a book to their child.

In 2015, the volunteer tutors helped 45 adult learners, of whom 60 percent worked to improve their ability to read a book or newspaper, 65 percent worked on their basic computer skills and 12 percent worked on passing the GED test.

Summer Reading Program

More than 110 community members volunteered 1,800 hours of their time in 2015 in the Summer Reading Program, which serves children up to age 12 who read library books and earn prizes. Teen volunteers greet children first entering the program, provide materials, explain how the program works, assist children in recording books they have read, hear and review book reports, maintain files and distribute prizes. Volunteers also assist with weekly Summer Reading Program entertainment events and serve as greeters, ticket takers and ushers.

Cultural Arts Night and Large Events

A group of about 15 volunteers provides hands-on support for Rancho Cucamonga’s Cultural Arts Night, Fourth of July Parade and other large-scale programs and events. In 2015, they donated 150 hours of their time. Many of these volunteers are teens, who help with setting up, running craft and activity areas, greeting and engaging attendees, answering general questions
and more.

Enhancing Public Safety Services

In 2015, volunteers in the Sheriff’s Department Reserve Unit contributed a total of 5,352 hours and logged almost 21,000 patrol miles using their personal vehicles.

Residents also help conduct a 2:00 a.m. audit of streetlights, noting locations where lights are not functioning and creating a report for the utility company to facilitate repairs.

Faith Community Boosts Volunteerism

Rancho Cucamonga’s faith community makes significant volunteer contributions in myriad ways. Two faith-based organizations, the Council of Churches and the Service Council, organize volunteers to help with neighborhood cleanups, assist seniors with code enforcement issues by making improvements to homes and property, and pitch in to paint fences, lay paths and plant trees throughout the city — and much more.

Members of the faith community reach out to the homeless population and assist the city in connecting homeless individuals and families with shelter and services.

Volunteers from the faith community also helped with the 2015 Special Olympics World Games held in Los Angeles. Rancho Cucamonga was one of 100 Southern California cities that hosted a total of 7,000 youth participants in the games. Over 100 volunteers in Rancho Cucamonga worked multiple days to help youth athletes from around the globe become acclimated to the weather and time zone. Members of the faith community escorted the athletes to practice facilities and transported them to housing and meals. After three days in Rancho Cucamonga, the athletes were ready to compete. Many of our local volunteers and residents followed the athletes to Los Angeles and cheered them on at the games.

Recognizing and Thanking Volunteers

Many of the programs described here hold appreciation events throughout the year to honor volunteers for their contributions. In addition, Rancho Cucamonga holds an annual volunteer recognition event for all volunteers who have contributed 20 hours or more that year. About 700 volunteers and their families typically attend this event, which has been held annually for 15 years.

This volunteer recognition event employs a theme each year; in 2015, it was superheroes. The theme is depicted in a lapel pin, which is handed out to the volunteers. These pins have become very popular collectible items.

Rancho Cucamonga’s volunteers enjoy a picnic lunch, games and activities for children and youth, raffles and a recognition ceremony.

The city tracks aggregate hours of service for each volunteer. Those who have donated 1,000 hours are recognized as Grand Volunteers, those with 5,000 hours are acknowledged as Supreme Volunteers and those with 10,000 hours of service are honored as Ultimate Volunteers.

Following the event, the entire group moves to the sports complex next door to watch a game played by the Quakes, the city’s minor league baseball team. The Quakes provide the tickets for all the attendees.

The Bottom Line

This day of fun honors our volunteers and underscores the value they bring to virtually every facet of life in our city. The hours and financial support they give are invaluable.

Making it an event for the entire family also helps our young people understand the significance of volunteerism in our everyday lives.

Perhaps most importantly, volunteers connect the community and enhance the quality of life in our city — and in cities throughout the Golden State. A recent search for “online resources for volunteering in California cities” produced over 29 million results in less than a minute, reminding us of the contributions made by volunteers and the goodwill created when caring people step forward to help others.

How do volunteers make a difference in your city? The next time you’re looking for a way to boost your community, be sure to mention the value that volunteers add to local programs. Many hands make light work — and by working together, we can transform our communities and achieve great things.

Thank a volunteer today! 

Photo credit: Courtesy of City of Rancho Cucamonga

This article appears in the April 2016 issue of Western City
Did you like what you read here? Subscribe to Western City