Volunteer Profile: Vanessa Mullally

Vanessa has been a stellar volunteer with us for over two years. Some of her accomplishments include becoming certified as an intermediate Volunteer Income Tax Preparer and piloting a project to build our capacity to help clients connect with local social services. We are truly thankful for all the work Vanessa has done for families in Napa County. She is a fantastic advocate and community builder.

How long have you been a volunteer, and why did you initially choose to volunteer with Cope Family Center?
This is my second year of volunteering. I responded to an advertisement to assist with tax preparation because I like to help people and work with finances.

What keeps you coming back?
I get satisfaction from the work and feel appreciated by staff and clients. I may not be earning a paycheck but I am helping put thousands of dollars in people’s ‘pockets’ that need it and that is tremendously rewarding. Money received by families through Cope’s volunteer tax program helps reduce stress by providing for necessities and also boosts our local economy.

How have you seen your volunteer role evolve during your time here?
This year I achieved intermediate level tax certification so I can prepare more complex returns and provide necessary review of returns our clinic prepares. I’m also helping with a pilot program spear-headed by Michelle Laymon of Cope: I assist clients completing applications for services and programs. Our goal is to free up home visitors to focus on bigger picture goals and activities while volunteers help clients navigate systems, processes, and workflows which are not always easily understood, especially when used once or infrequently – we can help with the learning curve.

Do you have one story you can tell us when you felt you were truly making a difference?
I recently assisted a family with four small children obtain needed funds to move into a safer home. I got goose bumps when I heard the funding was approved and the client teared up. She was worried that her kids would be homeless and was grateful for Cope Family Center’s assistance.

What is one challenge you’ve experienced as a volunteer?
It can be a challenge to stay sharp with tax rules and regulations when you don’t use the information regularly – for example we are preparing back tax returns on an as needed basis currently. However the IRS provides excellent training and materials and we can review charts and flow charts as needed. We discuss more complex scenarios with fellow volunteers, Michelle Laymon, and IRS personnel if needed until there is consensus regarding the correct application of tax law.

What do you enjoy about working with fellow Cope Family Center staff and volunteers?
There is a sense of camaraderie due to common goals. People are caring, intelligent, and possess a sense of humor.

What other work do you do in the community?
I’ve been a crime analyst at Napa Police Department and a computer applications developer and information technology director at Napa Valley College. I am semi-retired now and enjoy technical consulting and providing customer service at Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley in Napa, American Canyon, St. Helena, and Sonoma while regular staff take vacation.

What would you say to recommend Cope to friends and family who may want to volunteer?
Cope is a great place to volunteer. Your skills will be matched to needs and you and your efforts will be appreciated. You can choose how much time and energy you feel comfortable donating. Contact Aimee Inglis today!

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