Volunteering is a great way to help others in your community. (Contributed)

I began writing my food column for the Press Banner newspaper 13 years ago under the watchful eye of editor, Peter Burke. At that time, Peter’s grandmother was 90-plus years and still delivering Meals on Wheels for the seniors living in our beautiful valley. I was so inspired and determined by this, that being a few years younger, I thought, why can’t I contribute to our community that I have grown to love so well.

And so, it began. My first volunteer “job” began with Valley Churches United here in Ben Lomond in 2014, where I first bagged groceries to be given to their clients, and then took a desk job, working one-on-one with the clients, listening to their needs and determining what more we could do for them than simply giving out food. I loved that job, feeling that finally I was able to help someone.

Soon after, I responded to a phone call from Jean Kvamme, who had been reading my food columns and wanted to meet me. After a wonderful lunch together, I decided to join Jean’s organization, once again as a volunteer at LOARC, a horse therapy riding program for children and adults. 

My “job” there was as a “walker,” guiding the horse and rider around the horse ring while the therapist walked alongside the horse and rider, giving instructions. This one-hour walk was to build self-esteem, confidence and trust between the animal and person. This was a beautiful thing to watch, as I could see the progress each time I was there.

One day I was asked to fetch Pip, a horse from the paddock, and give her a bath. My instruction was to “be careful,” she doesn’t want to be messed with between her hindquarters. Well, that was the area that needed the most attention. I spotted a large sponge on a shelf, and after wrangling the sponge and a roll of duct tape, I had the perfect “tool” taped around the end of a broom handle to do the job from a safe distance behind. My reward? As soon as Pip was released back into the paddock, she rolled with great delight on its soft dirt.

Now I had two wonderful “jobs” each week.

Then one day a friend remarked, why don’t you teach the kids at the Boys and Girls Club in Scotts Valley how to cook. A lightbulb went off inside my head…and Mali, their director, thought this was a great idea, and for the next two school years, I would take the ingredients to the table of 12 to 14 kids from 6 to 14 years of age around it, and they would prep and cook the food. Messy and loud it was, but cook that food they did. In fact, one of my Press Banner editors enrolled his son in my class. Small world! And now I had three “jobs” each week.

I have been told to always ask the busiest person you know if you want to get a job done, and I have found that to be so true. So true in fact, that when the Sheriff’s substation in Felton needed volunteers to man the office, I answered the call, and when the call went out for citizens living in Santa Cruz County to respond to the need for grand jurors, I filled out the paperwork, was first questioned by the Interview Board and then by Judge Gallagher, and finally selected to be on the 2018-19 Grand Jury; and what a year that was! Once again, my number of jobs increased…this time to four.

And then the CZU fires happened and Covid raised its ugly head, and everything changed.   

I spent the next two years still writing this column while missing all of the wonderful friends I had made while volunteering, but something larger than just missing my friends was happening. It was the satisfaction of helping others that was gone, gone but not forgotten. And gone was the satisfaction of cooking with and for others, that triggered me into finding ways to get back that feeling of satisfaction that inspired me to begin cooking for seniors at the Scotts Valley and Highlands Park center last year.

Once again, that spark ignited…this time into a full-blown job, that of starting, along with five other volunteers, a fully licensed 501c3 nonprofit organization, Damians Ladder. Damians Ladder is designed to provide a luncheon and let’s talk hour, a cooking class and a handyman home maintenance program for low-income and disabled seniors who need help maintaining their homes in a safe and comfortable condition. The handyman program will begin as soon as we obtain our liability insurance.

And now, how about you, dear readers…do you have that spark within you, as well as a need to help someone other than yourself, the excitement of meeting new people who think of others rather than themselves all the while bonding with and making new friends?

Damians Ladder is looking for volunteers; people who put others ahead of themselves, people who want to help our new organization grow and have new ideas to contribute toward our success.

People who want to laugh, sometimes hug when a new milestone has been reached and people who want to help our seniors live safer and more comfortably in their homes…these are the volunteers we are looking for to join Damians Ladder. ARE YOU THAT PERSON? 

If so, email me at [email protected]. You will be proud you did!

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Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].


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