Close to Home: Local nonprofits still need volunteers in wake of fires

1/8/2015:B1:Robert L. Stevens Elementary School first-grader Lizbeth Ponce reads with volunteer Candace Demeduc on Wednesday in the Schools of Hope program. KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat PC:R.L. Stevens Elementary School first grader Lizbeth Ponce reads with United Way volunteer Candace Demeduc as part of the Schools of Hope program, Wednesday Jan. 7, 2015 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2015


As a community, we are experiencing the effects of the wildfires in our housing and business losses and the destruction of land in which so many of us have found solace. The initial shock and the wave of donations from people all over the country has subsided, and the Tubbs fire is now, nationally, considered old news. But those of us who are still living here, some of us struggling to get by and some of us bursting at the seams not knowing how to contribute, are still here and still craving growth and steps toward rebuilding. This is obvious and apparent to all of us. But what is not so obvious is how to contribute to our community to help in the rebuilding process.

I’ve had the privilege of working for United Way of the Wine Country for the past two years. The silver lining of this natural disaster for me was the number of kind people who stepped up and volunteered and donated when we briefly became a donation site and when we administered the first round of fire relief to affected individuals. But just because the fire is out, doesn’t mean that volunteer engagement in our community is no longer needed.

One of our education programs at United Way is Schools of Hope. We partner with 27 elementary schools in the towns of Santa Rosa, Windsor, Petaluma, Sonoma, Forestville, Guerneville, Cloverdale, Geyserville and Cotati. Volunteers meet once a week for 30 minutes with a first, second or third grade student below reading level in order to give them individualized attention to help improve their literacy skills. The Schools of Hope program is struggling to sign up enough volunteer tutors this year as a direct result of the fires.

Every year, we have a high return rate of tutors as they enjoy contributing to the growth of a child in our community. Honestly, they also appreciate the relatively low level of time commitment involved for this longer-term volunteer opportunity. Many of our tutors have stepped away from volunteering this year as they have more pressing responsibilities — such as finding a new job or a new home.

At the same time, there are many more students who need tutors this year because of the fires. Some students have been displaced and transferred from burned schools to schools taking part in Schools of Hope. With an increased population at our sites, there is an increased number of students who read below grade level.

On top of it all, students need additional mentoring support this year after experiencing a shift in lifestyle and routine because of the fires. Meeting regularly with the same stable adult who is prioritizing their education goes a long way for children in our community.

I am sure other nonprofits are facing other programmatic struggles as well, and if you have a favorite nonprofit, please reach out to see how you can help them by volunteering. But I can only speak personally on behalf of the beneficial work done by United Way fueled by our generous and amazing volunteers and supporters.

If you would like to play a part in supporting education and taking a step in rebuilding our community, I suggest reaching out to us at United Way. None of us can do everything to fix our community, but we can all do something.

Kelly Musca is the volunteer and corporate engagement coordinator for United Way of the Wine Country. She lives in Santa Rosa. For more information about becoming a tutor, go to