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Spirit of Volunteers

The miracle of candles is that thousands can be lighted from the flame of a single candle, and the life of that first candle will not be shortened by one second.

The same can be said for the generous spirit of Rogue Valley volunteers, said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way of Jackson County.

"I don't know if it's better to give than to receive," Everson said. "But I sure know it's a lot more fun."

In the United Way office, three volunteers from different walks of life sit surrounded by 1,700 "Thank you" letters which are about to hit the mailboxes of donors who gave during the nonprofit agency's recent fundraising drive.

The trio of smiling women are bound together by their task, and by their need to make a difference. They get joy from giving back to their community, they said.

"We live in a community that really cares and gives back," said Gold Hill resident Nancy Brophy.

In addition to stuffing envelopes, Brophy passes out free bus passes to men and women in need of transportation help. Donated by Rogue Valley Transportation District in collaboration with United Way, the bus passes help people make their way to work, to look for work or get treatment, Brophy said.

"I love giving out the bus passes," she said.

One man, recently laid off from Harry & David, expressed deep appreciation for his pass. The other 40 or more people Brophy will see during her volunteer shift are likewise grateful, she said.

"I know they appreciate it. It's really cold out there," said Brophy.

Brophy, 60, knows what it is to need a little help. She grew up in Shady Cove, attended Eagle Point High School and began doing drugs at age 21.

As the years rolled on, Brophy became both shut down and desperate for change. She was fearful she'd be unable to recover from decades of drug abuse. And she's grateful she was wrong about that.

"The biggest age group for (drug and alcohol) treatment is baby boomers," Brophy said. "It's important people hear this, get treatment and change."

At the urging of her adult children, and with the help of the treatment program at Addictions Recover Center, Brophy was able to end her drug habit.

"My son told me, 'We love and miss you, Mom. When are you going to get in recovery?' " Brophy said.

Brophy entered the ARC three years ago, on Dec. 15, 2008. She spent 16 months there, learning how to live a sober life. Brophy enrolled in 12-step programs and along the way met United Way Deputy Director Diane Mathews.

"She got me involved in volunteering," Brophy said. "It seems like I always took. And now I'm giving back and it feels really, really good. And it makes me really, really happy."

Joann VanWormer, 53, has been volunteering at United Way for the past decade. The Medford resident is currently unemployed after working in banking for the past 17 years, she said.

VanWormer has been seeking a secretarial or administrative position for several months. But she continues to volunteer when not looking for work.

"I need to look for work because I need the money," said VanWormer. "But, too, I feel that I am blessed. And I want to help out other people who need more help than I do."

She's also helping a younger generation to do its part. VanWormer's nephew, a freshman at Crater High School, is seeking a volunteer slot as part of a class requirement to help a nonprofit three times for a minimum of eight hours.

Fellow volunteer and Medford resident Doris Sugg suggested VanWormer's nephew might want to sign up to feed and walk homeless dogs at the Southern Oregon Humane Society.

Sugg, 70, is a triple-threat volunteer. In addition to her duties at United Way, Sugg volunteers at the animal shelter and at the Family Nurturing Center, a rescue nursery for at-risk children in Medford.

After working at Ashland Community Hospital, raising children and taking care of aging parents, Sugg retired with the expectation that she and her husband would enjoy their golden years together.

"Then one October day he was killed in a motorcycle accident," Sugg said. "That changed my life forever."

The accident happened on the afternoon of Oct. 6, 2008. It was Doris and Charles Sugg's 29th wedding anniversary.

Doris Sugg immediately set to work to improve the safety conditions on North Foothill and Lone Pine roads. New signs reducing the speed limit on Foothill Road were installed in February 2009 above and below the site of the fatal accident.

Sugg is relieved the road is safer for fellow travelers. And she's determined to fill her life with new challenges.

"I decided I had time on my hands," Sugg said. "I needed to get out in the world and volunteer. And it's been an absolute life-saver for me. I meet people from other walks of life, and we give and share and support each other."

Volunteers such as Sugg, VanWormer and Brophy are life-savers for United Way of Jackson County and other Rogue Valley nonprofit organizations, said Everson.

"Our work is better, stronger, wiser and more fun because of the collective power of all the people who come together to help," Everson said.

Without CASA volunteers, children from abusive or neglectful homes would have no one advocating on their behalf in court, said Jennifer Mylenek, executive director for CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, which provides supporting adults for children caught up in the court system.

Judges rely upon CASA reports to "bring the child alive" in an overburdened justice system, she said.

"They hope there's a CASA report to tell the child's story," Mylenek said.

Unlike a lot of volunteer opportunities, CASA volunteers commit to a two-year stint. They average staying at the work for 4.5 years, Mylenek said.

"A seasoned volunteer is like gold to us," Mylenek said. "Some have been with us for 20-plus years and are still going strong."

At St. Vincent de Paul's homeless shelter, former radio talk show host Rosemary Harrington can be found volunteering each Monday.

Harrington learned about St. Vincent while she was doing a morning radio show with her husband, Garth. Impressed with the all-volunteer organization, Harrington promised former St. Vincent President Len Hebert she'd begin volunteering once she retired.

Hebert remembered her vow, and he didn't hesitate to remind Harrington once she'd retired.

"He has a really good memory," Harrington said, laughing.

Harrington answered phones for the first six months. She's helped folks with their power bills and rent. Others have received tents and sleeping bags.

"It's overwhelming, the need," Harrington said. "We see so many people."

Known for holding a hard line regarding personal accountability while on her radio show, Harrington said she no longer factors in whether someone may have participated in creating their plight through substance use or simply because of poor life choices. Why a person is in need is not for her to judge, particularly when there are children involved, Harrington said.

"What do I care?" Harrington said. "It doesn't make one bit of difference how they got there."

Volunteering at St. Vincent has "shifted her perspective," as well as brought a new appreciation for her own life, she said.

"It keeps you grounded," Harrington said. "You realize there is a world beyond your world. I always knew I was lucky. I am so grateful for everything I had — and that I have."

Everson said she couldn't agree more with Harrington's kinder, gentler philosophy.

"It's not 'Light One Candle,' it's light every candle," said Everson. "It doesn't hurt us in any way to share. It's only for the good."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.

‘Triple threat’ volunteer Doris Sugg gives her time to help Unted Way, the animal shelter and the Family Nurturing Center. - Bob Pennell