Almost anyone who has volunteered time or services agrees that volunteering does as much for the volunteer as for the person or organization served.

The Santa Monica Volunteer Program offers numerous opportunities to suit the time and interests of a volunteer.

“Volunteering is a way to meet new people and to get hands-on experience in a variety of areas,” says Jaime Nack, City of Santa Monica Volunteer Program supervisor.

She adds that volunteering can fulfill an area in a person’s life that’s left unfulfilled by a career.

Nack encourages people to think about their interests and areas of enjoyment when deciding where to donate their time and services.

Nack suggests that one of the most popular volunteer events is Santa Monica’s annual Senior Prom for seniors.

More than 60 volunteers serve up refreshments and dance moves, acting as dance partners to attendees who don’t have a partner.

Last year Debbie Langridge, originally from New Orleans, volunteered at the Senior Prom. Since the event had a Mardi Gras theme, this New Orleans native was recruited to teach the seniors a Mardi Gras dance called “The Second Line.”

“It’s sort of a conga-line dance with a New Orleans flair,” says Langridge.

She says the essence of the dance comes from the funky, jazzy feeling of a Cajun-influenced song.

She also taught the seniors the Cajun saying, laissez le bon temps rouler, which translates to “let the good times roll.”

“I had so much fun listening to the seniors repeating laissez le bon temps rouler to each other and watching them flirting with one another that I probably had as much fun as the seniors did,” she says.

Volunteering at this event reenforced what Langridge already knew from growing up in New Orleans:

“You’ve got to live your life,” she says. “Life is about dancing, about being around people and about being a person who knows how to laissez le bon temps rouler. All of these things keep you going.”

Nack says a wide range of ages volunteer for the many organizations in the Santa Monica community.

Many of the youths have a lot of fun volunteering at the animal shelter. Her office also works with Santa Monica High School and places students with disabilities in the volunteer office, where the students get work-study credit.

To help potential volunteers find the right outlet for their skills, Santa Monica publishes a Volunteer Directory with comprehensive listings of organizations in Santa Monica and the Westside that rely on volunteers.

The city tries to make it easy for those who wish to volunteer to help a Santa Monica organization. The city sponsors ongoing and special event volunteer opportunities.

Sensitive to busy schedules, Nack says the city does not require a minimum amount of volunteer time. Many organizations also provide training for volunteers.

COASTAL CLEANUP DAY —One special event, Coastal Cleanup Day, is coming up from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, September 18th.

Volunteers may show up at one of six different lifeguard towers along the beach in Santa Monica to help with cleanup.

Volunteer divers are needed to collect debris from the ocean floor. The debris is turned over to kayak volunteers.

Volunteer divers and kayak volunteers must register with Westside Aquatics.

Last year Santa Monica had the largest group of volunteers in the Los Angeles region and volunteers collected 1,148 pounds of trash and 225 pounds of recyclable trash from Santa Monica beaches and adjacent bay.

SKILLS WELCOME — Nack encourages anyone with a special skill to teach seniors or youths to contact her.

“We had a stock broker offer to teach a mock portfolio class to teens,” Nack says. She also says her office team could always use more help.

Jo Merriweather, who has volunteered for about a year as Nack’s assistant, has learned management skills and says the work she’s doing has improved her own communication skills.

She volunteers two times a week, four hours each time, and says it’s good to be involved with the community.

“All I do is appreciated and as a result I feel appreciated,” she says. “Volunteering has helped me to improve myself.”

Information, Volunteer Program www.santa-monica.org

Coastal Cleanup, www.healthebay.org

Westside Aquatics, (310) 470-7004.

Julie Kirst can be reached at

jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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