Everywhere you turn these days there’s negativity. And that’s not even counting the coronavirus, which exploded into a worldwide pandemic soon after this story was completed in early March. We’re currently “sheltering in place” as we write this intro, and we’re not sure where we’ll be when this issue hits the stands. Will we have returned to normalcy? Will we still be “social distancing” from each other? Or will we be somewhere in the middle?
We don’t have a magic crystal ball to answer those questions, but we do know this: We need to hear about something good!
In the following pages you’ll meet six local volunteers who are doing their part to help make the Sacramento region a little better. Whether it’s helping animals, youth or those in dire need; supporting the arts; promoting literacy; or preserving history, these volunteers are dedicated to their causes. Their work has definitely been affected by the coronavirus, but there is no doubt that when we get to the other side of this, they will be integral in helping rebuild the community.
Feel inspired to give yourself? Check out the Big Day of Giving, taking place May 7, or go to your favorite organization’s website. Whatever you can afford to give will make a big difference; nonprofits can always use your support, but they’ve taken a big hit since the coronavirus came on the scene. Some might not make it. We might not be able to provide sweat equity like each of these volunteers, but we, too, can make a difference in our community.
Don Conley Boxing Club
Francisco Rojas has a goal: “Build better kids and keep them out of the streets.”
He does his part by coaching youth boxing five evenings a week at the Don Conley Boxing Club in Sacramento. The club, named after late local boxing trainer and coach Don Conley, was founded in 2012 to provide area youth a safe and positive space to hang out.
Rojas, who has been boxing since he was 14 (he’s 34 now), once had dreams of becoming a professional boxer. “I was told that I could be the next world champion from Sacramento,” he says. “I decided to take a break and that is when I started doing wrong,” he says. Rojas got into drugs and alcohol, and eventually found himself homeless. “By the end I was just walking on the streets.”
The break, injuries, and drugs and alcohol took their toll. His dream of becoming a professional boxer was shattered. “I ruined my career,” he says.
He realized, however, that he could help other kids from going down his same path. The boys he coaches range in age from 9 to 16. Some have aspirations to be prizefighters; some are brought to the club by parents hoping to stave away gangs and drugs; some find the club on their own.
One thing Rojas won’t tolerate is using boxing to hurt others. He tells kids that he can teach them to fight but if he hears that they go out and hurt someone on the street with their skills he doesn’t want them coming around. “When I found this sport and learned to fight, I thought, ‘There is no point in hurting people who can’t fight themselves,’” he says.
Through the sport of boxing, Rojas—who works full time as a landscaper and has two kids of his own—teaches the boys the importance of discipline and hard work. “I tell them they have to be here on time. They have to listen. They have to do the best they can. And I tell them they can’t be rude with each other. As long as you are doing good at school and here, I have no problem,” he says. “This sport is hard. If you survive the first month, you can make it. You can play soccer, you can play baseball, you can play whatever you want, but you cannot play boxing.”
When the shelter-in-place mandate went into effect, Rojas provided the boys he coaches with exercises they can do at home to keep up their strength: running, jumping rope, etc. “They can do all the physical conditioning at home. All they need the coaching for is the boxing technique,” says Rojas, who also makes himself available by phone, especially to the kids who are training to compete. “Me and my partner, we are always there for them.”
Elk Grove Historical Society
Jim Entrican has been volunteering in some capacity since he was a teenager growing up in Elk Grove, starting out as a junior member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. When he turned 18, he became an adviser to the juniors as well as a subordinate member of the IOOF. “I took the membership of the junior Odd Fellows from five or six boys to 40,” says Entrican. “That was the start of my volunteering. And I’ve been doing things for other people ever since.” His volunteer efforts continued when he married and had children, raising money for his kids’ baseball, soccer, gymnastics and dance activities. He even helped raise $10,000 for a church gymnasium.
Now retired, Entrican, who remembers when Elk Grove was a small town of 2,200 people with one police officer and one fire station, continues to volunteer for a number of Elk Grove-based organizations, including the Elk Grove Historical Society, which he’s been doing since 1996. “Preserving history is important to some of us old-timers in Elk Grove,” says Entrican, who turned 78 this past February. Under his watch, the EGHS, which is located in Heritage Park in Elk Grove, has renovated the 1850 Elk Grove House and Stage Shop Museum (which is open to the public the first Saturday of the month) and the 1853 Foulks House. He also project managed and built a blacksmith shop and a Dutch barn, the latter of which is used for storage. Throughout the years, Entrican’s roles have included board member, president, facilities manager and assistant treasurer. On any given day you can find him doing membership recruitment, giving a private tour, gardening and putting up tents for the various events that take place at the EGHS throughout the year.
Entrican, along with his wife, Annaclare, also an Elk Grove native and avid volunteer, were named Citizens of the Year in 2016 by the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce for their volunteer contributions to the city. “We feel extremely honored and not necessarily worthy of it, but we will not shy away from it because we want to be mentors,” says Entrican, who is always on a mission to recruit fellow volunteers. “I feel like I am an ambassador.”
The Elk Grove Historical Society has cancelled all meetings and one event (Early California Days) thus far. “There’s not much we can do as we work to entertain the public, and we could put our volunteers and the guests at risk,” says Entrican, noting the importance of fundraisers. “All nonprofits have expenses just like businesses or individuals,” he says. “We have to make cuts and keep within our budget to exist.” Entrican, however, remains optimistic for the future. “We will come out of this coronavirus pandemic OK.”
Arden-Dimick Friends of the Library
Cecilia Uribe-Smith does a lot of heavy lifting volunteering with the Arden-Dimick Friends of the Library.
As the youngest member of the Arden-Dimick Friends, Uribe-Smith, who turned 20 this past December, is often the one carting donations from the library or other drop-off points to the shed where the books are kept. From there, they get placed in the Book Nook, which can be found to the right as you enter the Arden-Dimick library on Watt Avenue, and the Book Den, a used bookstore exclusive to Friends’ members, as well as to the Arden-Dimick Friends’ quarterly and pop-up book sales, held throughout the year. Such sales are a major fundraiser for this branch of the Sacramento Public Library. Uribe-Smith, who started out volunteering with the branch when she was 16 and now works part time there, also helps sort the books by category, type, genre and usability.
Uribe-Smith, who won a DOVIA Youth Volunteer of the Year award in 2018 and a Bronze President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2016 for her efforts, was encouraged to join the Friends board when she was 17 to provide a youthful perspective on board activities. In addition to helping out with book donations and sales, Uribe-Smith helps with social media and event planning. Through her work with Friends, she’s helped the library get new equipment and materials such as microphones and headsets for the many programs the library offers.
Uribe-Smith has been a book lover since she was a child. “When I was little I would read a book a day, maybe two. I still love reading,” she says. Her favorite genres are horror, fantasy and adventure novels with the occasional mystery thrown in. Despite her young age, she prefers a good old-fashioned book rather than a smartphone or tablet. “I need to have a physical copy. It just makes me feel really good, having one,” Uribe-Smith says. “A reader hurts my eyes.”
With her love of all things books and the library, will Uribe-Smith, currently a full-time student at American River College, make it a career?
“Sadly, no,” she says. “One of my co-workers thought I would go into library science. I am actually going into architecture and construction management.”
“With the shelter in place in effect, there’s nothing we can really do to work around our volunteer efforts,” says Uribe-Smith, noting that all books sales have been suspended. “I know that library staff and library volunteers will definitely have their hands full when we do re-open: books to shelve, holds, donations, and plenty more will keep us busy for a while. I hope that this will bring more volunteers to help us get things back on track.”
It’s the success stories that keep Kelli Black coming back.
Like the story of the young family with the autistic son who adopted two ginger kittens she’d been fostering. Soon after the adoption, Black received a text from the mom, who admitted she had been concerned about how her son would react to the cats. “These kitties are like his therapy pets,” the woman wrote. “They keep him calm.”
“We just totally live for the updates, particularly if we get a litter that is harder to place,” says Black, who volunteers with Lapcats, which rescues and fosters community cats and hard-to-place shelter cats, offering rehabilitation, if necessary, before finding them homes. “It’s kind of what keeps us going.”
Black has been volunteering with Lapcats for about four years but has done animal rescue work for 25. “Once you get into rescue work, there is always something that keeps you involved,” she says. She does a little bit of everything for the organization: fosters cats; serves as an adoption counselor; does fundraising, grant writing and graphic design work; and “anything else that she pitches my way,” says Black, referring to Lapcats founder and president, Barbara Doty.
Black, who juggles a demanding full-time job as well as a husband, two kids ages 13 and 15, three dogs, four cats and two guinea pigs, admits finding time to do it all is tough. “I find that I run on fumes most times, some weeks more than others,” she says. Luckily for Black, her family is supportive. “When we bring a litter of kittens in to foster, we are all in it. It’s a family affair for sure.”
The experience, she says, has taught her kids—who have accompanied her on trap/neuter/release missions and help to administer medications and fluids to sick kittens—valuable lessons. “They grew up with a rotating door of cats and dogs at their house. It teaches them responsibility. It teaches them about life and death. They are walking, talking billboards for rescue work.”
Lapcats has seen an uptick in adoption applications since the coronavirus hit the scene, but since the shelter-in-place order went into effect, they’ve had to hold off doing meet-and-greets. A bigger concern, says Black, is the impending “kitten season”: a six- or seven-month timespan when most unaltered cats breed, which is heightened this year due to the closure of low-cost spay/neuter clinics. “We are bracing for the impact of that,” Black says. Help with fostering and finances are greatly appreciated. “We’re still caring for many homeless kitties,” she says.
Some people retire and never look back.
Griff Field retired and came back—the following week.
“I retired on a Friday and I came back to work as a volunteer on a Tuesday,” he says. “Some of the board members did not even realize I had retired.”
Field was a retired U.S. Navy nurse looking for his second career when he started working as a public relations associate at Music Circus in 1989. A few weeks into the season, producing director Leland Ball asked him to join the staff of his new venture, the Broadway Series, a selection of year-round Broadway touring productions. “I think one of the things Leland was looking at was that I was a grown-up,” says Field, who was in his mid-40s at the time. “Since there were just three of us, we all kind of did a little bit of everything: mocked up programs, sold advertising, did public relations.” By the time Field retired from the company in 2009, he was working in the development department, planning galas and other events in an effort to raise money for the organization.
Because of his extensive background with the company, Field is able to help out the organization in a variety of ways. From answering phones and proofreading programs to helping with grant writing and providing high-end donors a tour of the costume warehouse, Field, a donor and season ticket-holder himself, can and does it all. One of the projects he enjoys most, however, are the historical background pieces he writes for Music Circus productions, finding interesting angles, anecdotes and factoids to go along with each one. “I’m really proud of those little pieces I write for the program because it’s a little introduction for people who do not know a lot about the theater and it’s the kind of thing that would make a knowledgeable person say, ‘Oh, wow, I did not know that.’” Field puts in an eight-hour day at the Broadway Sacramento offices every Tuesday but spends countless more hours researching and writing the historical pieces. “I come back with my best 650 words,” he says of his work.
Field enjoys the flexibility volunteering offers him. “I am not tied down to one thing. I can kind of flit around,” he says.
“My volunteer job is no more. The Broadway Sacramento staff are all working from home. One production, “Bandstand,” has already been canceled,” says Field. He encourages people who already bought tickets for a now-canceled show to turn it into a tax-deductible contribution rather than ask for a refund. “Please consider doing so,” says Field. “Nothing hurts an organization’s finances quite as much as refunds. And continue to fight the good fight.”
“What is your address?”
It was an innocent enough question, but Willow Clinic volunteer Anthony Nguyen learned a valuable lesson the day he asked it of a client he was assisting at the clinic. The woman, who didn’t have a home address, started crying. Nguyen immediately realized his mistake.
“Experiences like this help trigger my growth,” say Nguyen, a UC Davis undergraduate who plans to attend medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, in the fall. “The power of language and what we say, how we interact with others can really have a huge impact.” Now, instead of asking clients for their “address” he asks, “what area are you residing in?” “I like to ask this open-ended question in a more sensitive way,” he says.
Located at North Sacramento’s Salvation Army at 1200 North B St., the Willow Clinic is open on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon and offers medical and psychiatric services, dental and vision care, a smoking cessation program, a diabetes support group, a pharmaceutical dispensary, a monthly legal clinic and more to community members—regardless of insurance or ability to pay. Clinic volunteers—who include doctors, UC Davis medical students and undergraduates, and social workers—also help connect clients with food, shelter, transportation and more.
The clinic has given Nguyen a chance to work with psychiatrists, oncologists, and family medicine and internal medicine doctors. Although he has not determined what branch of medicine he plans to focus on, Nguyen knows with whom he wants to work: underserved and marginalized populations. Nguyen did not experience homelessness growing up but was surrounded by it in his low-income neighborhood in Stockton. “A lot of my peers were at risk of losing their homes and on the edge of poverty. A lot of them were ignored,” he says. “I really want to return to my roots and make a difference in my community.”
For Nguyen, a 2018 recipient of the UC Davis Silver Community Service Award and a Gates Millennium Scholar—awarded to low-income high school students who excel at academics and community service and show leadership skills—volunteering at Willow Clinic energizes him. “I always have something to look forward to on Saturdays,” he says. “I’m really able to make an impact and help individuals on their healing journey.”
At the time of publication, Willow Clinic had temporarily put clinic-related activities on hold for the safety of the community members who utilize its services, but Nguyen says volunteers expect to continue to uphold the clinic’s mission. “This is a time when our communities need us most,” he says. Nguyen urges healthy individuals to donate blood. “Blood needs continue unabated despite COVID-19,” he says. “There will still be circumstances when blood is necessary to treat patients: traumatic injuries, surgeries, cancer treatment effects, burns, childbirth complications and more.”