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Here's a smattering of local volunteer news and opportunities

We checked around and found enough volunteer opportunities and news to keep you busy through 2008. Of course, this isn't an exhaustive collection of local need. In fact, it's only a tiny, tiny scratch on the vast surface of opportunity. For every group listed here, there are dozens and dozens more looking for a hand. Maybe yours? Let your fingers do the walking to discover more organizations that need volunteers around San Luis Obispo County. In the meantime, get some ideas here. ?

Down with erosion!
Pete Sarafian, Small Wilderness Area Preservation (SWAP) Los Osos/Morro Bay Chapter conservation chair, is fighting to preserve California's native plant and animal culture in a natural setting and he needs help.

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# "At one time, the California coast had a great deal of native plant life, and now it's being pushed back and you can't see it very often," he said. "The name of the game is environmental preservation."

The El Morro Elfin Forest in Los Osos is next to the Morro Bay Estuary. SWAP reported that it raised funds for the forest's purchase in 1994 and turned the land over to San Luis Obispo County Parks. SWAP signed a 10-year Adopt-A-Park agreement with the county, which includes helping to restore and maintain the Elfin Forest.

"Without human attention and intervention, the effects of human pressure will pretty much destroy a great deal of the plants and animals," said Sarafian, who's retired and now basically does full-time restoration work. "It's under siege because of invasive species from other continents, from human pressure people creating trails. Its a very fragile and unique setting, and you just don't find a place with so many different plants and ecosystems in one place. It's uniqueness calls to us to try to preserve it."

SWAP invites volunteers to help with erosion and weed control on the first Saturday of each month. Sarafian said that anywhere from three to 14 people show up in a given month not many when you consider the population of the county, he pointed out.

"Of course, people are busy," he added.

Erosion control involves stabilizing the ground under the forest by diverting water so it doesn't run in long channels, laying down matting so the ground doesn't shift, planting native growth, and installing fencing as a last resort. The whole point is to keep the hillsides from washing away.

The next work outing in the Elfin Forest is from 9 a.m. to noon on Jan. 6. Meet at the north end of 15th Street off of Santa Ysabel in Los Osos.

Volunteers should dress for sun and wind and bring work gloves if possible. Some work gloves, tools, and drinking water will be provided.

Sarafian also noted that he always needs help for various projects throughout the week, but he has to monitor any volunteers.

"Anyone who likes conservation work which is a lot of sweat labor is welcome to call us at 528-0392," Sarafian said.


Lend a hand to Hospice

"We keep our volunteers real busy here."

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# Carly Davis is the volunteer coordinator at Hospice Partners of the Central Coast, which gives terminally ill patients the opportunity to experience the end of their lives in their own homes, among friends and family. She explained that, despite the fact that the group currently has about 130 active volunteers, there's always room and need for more.

"There's not really a big turnover rate, but we've grown a lot we've grown a lot in the last couple years, so we have more families to serve," Davis said.

Volunteers can provide in-home caregiver relief, companionship, and emotional support for patients and their families. They can also visit patients in skilled nursing and residential care facilities give clerical support to Hospice Partners staff help plan, promote, and present fundraising and appreciation events provide emotional support to bereaved family members or offer "vigil" support for hospice patients and their caregivers during the last days and hours of life.

The next Hospice volunteer training session is still a ways off April 18 through May 16 but there are only a couple of sessions a year, so the group is already looking for new recruits to sign up.

"We just keep growing," Davis said.

For more information, call 782-8608.


Help Hotline get a new number
Hotline of San Luis Obispo County which has provided free and confidential information, referrals, support, and crisis intervention to locals for more than 35 years is planning to convert from its current telephone number (549-8989) to 211 in the summer of 2007.

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# First, however, the California Public Utilities Commission has to approve Hotline's application to run 211 in the county and is requiring the service to bring in more trained resource and support specialists to be available to take calls.

To meet its summertime goal, Hotline will be recruiting and training volunteers every month in the new year.

"We have around 30. We'd like to have around 60," said Evan Mendelson, executive director with Hotline of San Luis Obispo County.

Volunteers must be older than 18, good listeners, and open-minded. After the initial training, there's a four-hour-per-week commitment.

"We have six months to really make sure that we have well-trained people ready for an onslaught," Mendelson said.

And an onslaught it likely will be.

Jan Purling, data systems supervisor for Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County, said that that organization saw incoming calls double immediately from around 700 to 1,400 a month when they launched 211 in July 2005. She explained that they implemented an extensive marketing program, which got word out about the ongoing service under a new number. Also, 211 is easy to remember.

"The numbers are quite amazing in terms of the increase in access," Hotline's Mendelson said. "Just think about what that says about need in the community."

Now, Purling reports that Santa Barbara County's service receives more than 1,600 calls a month, so SLO County's Hotline is bracing itself.

Hotline reported that more than 63 percent of the state's population can dial 211 in eight counties, and that the phone service is available to roughly 192 million people in 41 states.

The next training workshops are scheduled to start on Jan. 23 and 27. For more information, call 544-6016.


Funds on the water
The Morro Bay National Estuary Program announced that its Volunteer Monitoring Program (VMP) was recently awarded $550,000 in state grant funds available in the spring for a three-year program to monitor the health of the Morro Bay Estuary and the streams that drain into it, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the efforts underway to improve water quality in the estuary. The VMP recruits and trains local citizens to conduct environmental monitoring in the Morro Bay watershed.

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# The estuary program reported that the funding came from the Proposition 50 Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, a $3.44 billion bond passed by California voters in 2002 to "restore and protect the water quality and environment of coastal waters, estuaries, bays, and groundwater."

Ann Kitajima, program manager for the VMP, explained that the program is fortunate to have two rich local sources of volunteers: schools (Cal Poly and Cuesta) and an active retired community. Anyone, however, is welcome to lend a hand.

"It seems like we're almost always looking for someone in one area or another," Kitajima said.

Volunteers have a variety of options, from tromping through streams to peering through microscopes. They can count birds and bugs, or monitor phytoplankton or debris. Some tasks are year-round, others are seasonal. An informal training program points people on the right path and ensures that they're able to handle specific tasks. Volunteers are asked to make a commitment for a certain period of time, such as six months.

"The things we do are so varied that usually there's a niche for everyone," said Kitajima, who noted that about 100 to 120 volunteers cycle through the program each year.

Data collected by VMP recruits under the new grant will be used to track the health of the estuary and to assess the effectiveness of water quality improvement efforts, including derelict boat removal on the bay, stormwater management measures, riparian fencing installation on grazing lands, land management to reduce erosion from farms and ranches, and floodplain and streambank restoration. The Estuary Program and other groups plan to use the results to guide and improve resource management in the Morro Bay watershed.

"The Volunteer Monitoring Program is our eyes and ears in the water, providing the key data needed to track and respond to current conditions, and to focus our resources on the most effective solutions to improve water quality," Estuary Program Director Dan Berman said in a release.

The San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance program, centered at Cal Poly, will also coordinate with the volunteers' efforts in its series of scientific initiatives focused on the Morro Bay Estuary and surrounding ocean.


For more information about the grant or the volunteer program, call 772-3834 or visit and click on the volunteer link.


It's the month to mentor
Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County reported that January is National Mentoring Month. The local branch of the program which pairs mentors with youth in an effort to positively influence behavior is looking for locals to step up and give their time.

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# Anna Boyd-Bucy, program director, said that the first step is to call the office and go through an interview and background check. Then, volunteers attend a training session typically given twice a month and read a manual. The whole process tends to take about a month, after which they're paired up with a little brother or sister depending on interest, compatibility, proximity, and more. Surfers may team up with kids who want to learn on the waves. Arts-and-crafters can find themselves scrapbooking or knitting with eager youngsters.

Boyd-Bucy reported that, as of Dec. 1, Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County had served 875 children since opening in 1995 216 of which started in the program in 2006.

"We're growing rapidly," she said. "We had 27 percent growth this year."

To that end, the group is always looking for new faces. The commitment is to spend six to eight hours a month with a child for a minimum of one year.

"It's a great, really fun program, and the children really benefit," Boyd-Bucy said. "Self-esteem improves, and when their self-esteem goes up, everything else improves."

For more information or to start the volunteer process, call 781-3226 or visit


Watch your speed
The Arroyo Grande Police Department (AGPD) has been receiving complaints about speeders in the Berry Gardens residential area. In response, officers have increased their presence in the area and have taken a more experimental approach as well.

Starting at 10 a.m. on Dec. 28, volunteers began visiting homes in the Berry Gardens area in an effort to spread the word about traffic safety. They talked about speed-reduction reminders and the dangers of speeding in residential neighborhoods, and answered general safety questions.

Michele Stearns, community services coordinator with the AGPD, reported that this approach may be used again in the future depending on the results of this effort, which initially appear to be positive. Everyone will just have to wait and see.

Like most people who work with volunteers, Stearns said that the department is always looking for more. The next eight-week academy to train volunteers isn't until September, but the department has lowered its age requirement from a basically senior-oriented limit. Now, anyone older than 21 can start planning ahead.

"My volunteers are always ready," Stearns said. "If there's a need, they're always there."

For more information, call Stearns at 473-5114.



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