Changes at Cope

When I arrived at Cope Family Center three years ago under the banner of AmeriCorps State/National, I had one year as an AmeriCorps VISTA and a few months as an organizing intern under my belt post-graduation from UC Irvine. I had worked with volunteers and been one many times myself (and previous personal volunteer/intern experiences had left me with a good idea of how NOT to treat volunteers/interns more than anything), but I wouldn’t have called myself a volunteer manager by any means. I brought with me a vision that a volunteer program could be a broader force for community change, and a personal belief that everyone has something to contribute, everyone has value, and a successful volunteer program prioritizes building on someone’s skills and what they’re passionate about, tapping into that passion to help drive the work of the organization.

In short, I had big ideas on what needed to be done with little experience on what it takes to get there. I was up for navigating uncharted territory, and luckily I was given the time and enough support to do so. Americorps was a bit of a nonprofit apprenticeship, and it took me a couple months to pick up steam while I really got a handle on what a volunteer manager even does! From humble beginnings three years ago, today Cope averages a base of 40 ongoing volunteers, and many more casual supporters. We’re dipping our toes in advocacy work with our Outreach & Advocacy Committee. The Woman2Woman campaign has nearly 100 women involved as donors and volunteers. Our Child Assault Prevention and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs have grown and will continue to do so with a dedicated volunteer base. We transformed our water-thirsty lawn to an edible, sustainable neighborhood gem. I’m probably overlooking some accomplishments… it’s been an eventful three years! None of this would have come together without the leadership of Joelle, our ED, Michele (my supervisor and Associate Director), and the support of fellow staff and volunteers. I felt a nearly unwavering confidence and trust in my vision and capabilities, which was invaluable to me and sometimes surprising, considering my youth & limited experience. But Cope is a unique organization, led by open & innovative folks. Even after 40 years, there is a willingness to always improve and sincere desire to do the best we can for the community.

So I don’t leave without some regret and sadness. I think that’s healthy, because in work so embedded in the community if you’re not leaving a piece of yourself behind, that’s a negative. That means you weren’t all in. I was all in, and I put as much as I was capable into the Community Engagement Program at Cope Family Center. I’ve received so much in return I couldn’t begin to balance the scales. Napa is a beautiful place, and its people are just as beautiful, despite (or in some ways because of–there’s much to say about people who rise to the occasion) the challenges we face as a community. I will miss it dearly.

As much as this sounds like an official goodbye, I am sticking around fairly close. My next adventure is at Tenants Together, CA’s statewide organization for renters’ rights, based in San Francisco. Think of it as helping families provide healthy & stable housing for their kids! I had been a volunteer counselor on their Tenant Foreclosure Hotline for about a year, and am now transitioning to staff as Hotline/Volunteer Coordinator. Cope’s investment in me means I’m now able to help improve lives throughout the state (and that still means Napa!).

I plan to be back in September, to actually walk my first Napa River Rock & Stroll (the last three years I was always working it!), and I’m still raising funds as a member of Team Cope Family Center. Donate to my page as a going-away present?

So, it’s not goodbye, it’s more like “See you around!” To all the volunteers, community partners, and staff: thank you so much for the last three years. I have been so lucky to work with such amazing folks, and to have the opportunity to do really meaningful work. I am infinitely lucky to be able to continue to do so.

By Aimee Inglis, Community Engagement Program Manager

Volunteer Profile: Christopher Hayden Rauch-Gish

Hayden began volunteering with us in the Fall of 2010 as our New Tech Intern in the Development Department.  From video editing to maintaining our donor database to being an all-around reliable helping hand when we needed it, Hayden has been a joy to work with. He continued his service post-internship as a co-chair for the Napa River Rock & Stroll Logistics team, and will soon be serving on our Outreach & Advocacy committee. Napa is lucky to have such a great advocate for children and families in our community!

Last Friday, Hayden and I discussed his experience as a volunteer and what he’d like the community to know:

AI: You have quite a volunteer history at Cope Family Center, what do you most enjoy about volunteering with us?
CHR: The people are fun and it’s a good place to work. I feel like I really make a difference because it’s a very productive group. I also appreciated the opportunity to be a part of the Rock & Stroll logistics team–most people my age don’t get that kind of leadership position and I was impressed with the level of trust you all had for me.
AI: Before and throughout your service you’ve been working toward your goal to attend a military academy. Has volunteering at Cope helped you in any way toward your goals?
CHR: Yes! I have learned so much including how to work with people, leadership skills, and time management. I feel like I am on top of my game and can balance my busy life.
AI: What were two stand-out experiences as a volunteer?
CHR: As an intern, I was tasked with creating a holiday video ecard, and it was a great experience shooting footage at the staff holiday party. Everyone was so friendly and I felt really welcome. I also really enjoyed race day for the Napa River Rock & Stroll–though that had its challenges as well! One part of the trail has some really serious gravel and I bent my tire trying to ride over it–it’s still bent, in fact.
AI: Oh no! Any other challenges in your volunteer service?
CHR: Not really, though I’ve always been a bit of a procrastinator. Though this has improved since I saw how it affected one aspect of Rock & Stroll… I failed to follow up thoroughly on getting the golf carts for the trail and it was unfortunate to not have them on race day.
AI: What would you say to friends and family to encourage them to volunteer?
CHR: This really is the place to be if you want to make a broad impact as a volunteer. Cope focuses on families, which is a large portion of our community, and they’re really great people to work with. I also appreciate the flexibility, since I work and go to school and still have time to volunteer here. There’s always an opportunity to help and if more people step up, there’s more we can do as a team.
AI: What other community work do you do?
CHR: I’m currently a member of the Search & Rescue team (finding missing persons, etc.), and an EMT for the Fire Department. When I attended New Tech I also helped organize HUB, an afterschool program for teens.
AI: Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed! We love having you as part of the team.

By Aimee Inglis, Community Engagement Program Manager