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Volunteers bring smiles to SCV Senior Center

Posted: April 19, 2009 10:49 p.m.
Updated: April 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Volunteers Cecil Bernstein, left, and Bea Mulligan, right, join Director of Volunteers Robin Clough, center, at the information desk of the SCV Senior Center for National Volunteer Week on Thursday.

Five days a week, four hours a day, volunteer Cecil Bernstein sits in "her" chair in the front lobby of Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, passing out information, signing up participants for health screenings, soliciting donations, and welcoming visitors.

"I say, ‘Good morning, how are you?' They've got a smile and that makes me smile," Bernstein said.

Volunteering gave Bernstein, 82, a positive outlet after retiring and finding herself in a depression. The Newhall resident has been manning her one-woman information station since May 2008.

"I was going down the drain at home," Bernstein said. "I wasn't doing anything constructive. My daughter finally said to me, ‘Mom, you've worked all your life. Go out and do something!' By volunteering, I feel I am still a viable person."

National Volunteer Week 2009, commemorated April 19-25, is themed "Celebrating People in Action," honoring the individuals who dedicate themselves to taking action and solving problems in their communities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, about 61.8 million people, or 26.4 percent of the population, volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2007 and September 2008. Both sexes spent a median of 52 hours on volunteer activities during the same period, with seniors comprising 23.5 percent of the volunteer population.

Bernstein is one of five hundred volunteers that regularly help out at the Senior Center. Director Robin Clough estimates that seniors, ranging in age from their 50s all the way to 98, comprise 75 percent of their volunteer force.

"We heavily rely on our volunteers," Clough said. "We couldn't function without them. Seniors bring experience and wisdom and are here because they want to be. We are so grateful for their help. What they do is priceless."

Juliet James, 64, has been volunteering twice a week at the support services desk since November 2002. The former social worker had retired from Los Angeles County Department of Social Services after 35 years. She took four months off to decompress before offering her time to the Senior Center.

Support services turned out to be a perfect match for her skills. James, who lives in Stevenson Ranch, answers phones and welcomes walk-ins, many of whom are searching for information on everything from low-income housing to discount Dial-A-Ride tickets to what's on the weekly lunch menu. She passes more intricate requests on to case managers.

"I never know what's going to be asked of me," James said. "At the end of the day, I think, ‘Wow, those were some interesting things I dealt with.' I have to feel I'm doing something worthwhile, even if it's just giving out a phone number where someone can go to get the service they need."

Dealing with the public can sometimes be a challenge, according to James, but she puts it in perspective.

"I found you have to have a pretty good level of tolerance towards other people's dispositions," James said. "You have to think of where they're coming from and psychologically put yourself in their place. I just try to ease the process and be as pleasant as possible. Hopefully, they leave better off then when they came in."

James also volunteers at the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry once a week, stocking shelves and sorting groceries.

Bernstein, a former school office manager, volunteered for educational nonprofits in the San Fernando Valley for 16 years prior to retirement and the subsequent move to the Santa Clarita Valley. Reconnecting to her volunteer roots was a significant factor in enjoying the next phase of her life.

"It saved me," she said. "My mom told me a thousand times it's better to give than to take because while giving, you also get something back."

For more information about volunteering at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, please call (661) 259-9444 or visit


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