Dolores Reed-Waltz, a Westchester resident since 1955, is a Travelers Aid Society volunteer caseworker at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) who went back to school and received her master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California at the age of 50. She was a paid caseworker from 1984 to 1994, when she retired, and she says she is the only paid caseworker who later became a volunteer for the organization at LAX.
The crucial service that this organization provides to people is information about a vast number of groups and organizations that can assist individuals with their problems and questions, said Reed-Waltz.
She said she wants to encourage people to follow their dreams and not let age be an impediment.
“Sometimes I meet people who feel they are stuck in a situation and can’t improve where they are in life, but I tell them that it’s never too late if they try, and then I tell them my story of going back to school,” she said. “I actually inspired my own children to go back to school and get their degrees when I received my Masters.”
A licensed clinical social worker, when she retired in 1994, she wanted to continue supporting Travelers Aid on a voluntary basis, referring to herself as a “hybrid” volunteer for being an employee and then a volunteer.
Reed-Waltz has volunteered more than 2,000 hours, providing counseling to passengers in need of food, shelter and transportation, handling cases such as domestic abuse, runaway teenagers and individuals who have made poor decisions in their travels and have no place to go.
“I take my time and ask in-depth questions, so it’s not just a matter of pointing where things are at the airport or handing them a coupon or a voucher,” said Reed-Waltz. “I help them understand how the decisions they made got them here so they will learn, but sometimes the most valuable thing I can offer them is listening.
“It’s amazing how people just need to be heard.”
Many people don’t realize that the Travelers Aid Society doesn’t just deal with airline travelers, but also with individuals traveling by bus or train, and some people go to LAX for help because they know the Travelers Aid Society helps people, said Reed-Waltz.
Some elderly individuals leave their board-and-care facility because they remember being happy at home and they want to return, hoping that Travelers Aid can help them.
Travelers who speak a foreign language are assisted by a “language line” and the society also works with foreign consulates to assist citizens of other countries.
Hotel and food vouchers and generous assistance from Travelers Aid Society sponsor Greyhound Bus Lines for travel vouchers are just some of the ways help is provided. But Reed-Waltz said that people wanting help to travel must be able to show that they have a place to go and someone to contact at the destination to confirm they are welcome.
The society works with the LAX Airport Police, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), mental health facilities and the airlines to provide assistance.
A mother of three children and a great-grandmother, Reed-Waltz exhibits a youthful enthusiasm and energy that belie her age, and she says she wants to volunteer for as long as she is capable.
Christine Okinaga, the director of volunteers for the Travelers Aid Society, said, “To have someone at that professional level volunteer her time just elevates our level of service and care, and to the family members whose loved one returns home safely, or the individual whose quality of life was improved by linking them to a much-needed community program, Dolores is a light at the end of the tunnel and a true role model.”
Reed-Waltz modestly points out that there are well over 250 volunteers who all work equally hard to assist the public, and that the dedication and direction Okinaga provides are key factors in the success of the organization.
“We all have to look out for each other,” she said, crediting her strong faith as she works to help people.
When she and friends discuss “who they are,” she holds up a small vase holding several flags of different nations that represent her ethnic heritage and she says to them, “This is who I am.”
In addition to volunteering at the LAX Travelers Aid Society, she also sings for the local Westchester Lutheran Church’s “RSVP Singers” and sews comforters that are given to the needy.
The Travelers Aid Society welcomes donations and sponsors, and Reed-Waltz said one of the ways the public can assist is by donating the small bottles of shampoo, hair conditioner and soaps that people bring back from their trips, to be distributed to those in need.
While some funds come from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), sponsors are always welcome, as are volunteers.
In 2006, Travelers Aid Society at LAX’s “285 volunteers helped approximately 850,000 passengers and 1,130 cases of families and individuals in crisis,” said Gail Gaddi, principal public relations representative for LAX Community Relations.
Volunteers can be found at the information booths at each of the nine terminals at the Arrivals Level at LAX.
Information on Travelers Aid Society at LAX, Christine Okinaga, (310) 646-2270.