Swisher named Volunteer of Year

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Liz Mora, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, presents a gift to member Melanie McLean on Wednesday evening at the Durango Community Recreation Center. McLean was going off the center’s board after serving four years as treasurer.

If there were any doubts the economy is recovering and people are becoming more optimistic, the Women’s Resource Center’s Annual Meeting and Volunteer Appreciation Party would have dispelled them.

After a period of great uncertainty about four years ago, the center has established a stalwart leadership team with Executive Director Liz Mora, Director of Marketing and Fund Development Deborah Uroda and Programs Director Christy Schaerer taking the center to more solid footing. And the success is contagious – more than 90 people, including more than a dozen men (yeah!), attended the event. That was more than double the attendees a few years ago.

They arrived to the smiling faces of longtime volunteers Barb Shore, Sue Griffith and Maile Kane. Shore and Griffith have to be among the best volunteers ever. For the last 17 years, each has showed up one day a week to help run the office.

Guests enjoyed a fajita dinner with choices of beef and chicken, salad, beans and rice and a cornucopia of desserts, including brownies, lemon bars and other goodies prepared by Norton’s Catering.

There was a lot of good news.

Anne Swisher, volunteer coordinator for Womenade, which the center administers, was named Volunteer of the Year. Womenade is a program in which participants attend a potluck, throw $25 into the pot and then select recipients who need help to get through a rough patch to receive the resulting money.

Her fellow Womenade Council members could not have been more thrilled. They are Nancy Vanderwal, Shauna Agnew, Donna Codd, Janet Oliver, Anita Cohen and Christina Knickerbocker.

Schaerer, who helped Mora present the award, said one of the great things Swisher does is follow up with the mini-grant recipients to see how they’re doing and communicating it back to the donors. In 2012, Womenade helped 31 women with everything from car repairs to medical expenses, dispensing more than $12,000.

In a fascinating stage of development, perhaps an illustration of changing times and the center’s maturity, the organization’s membership elected the first-ever male board chairman in its 26-year history. Daniel Wiggins had some fun when outgoing chairwoman Margie Deane Gray gave him a copy of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex. He said he’s already read it once or twice, but there’s always something new to learn in that confusing dance we all do.

In an economy in which every nonprofit is struggling, whether it’s a little or a lot, the center has worked hard to achieve some financial stability. Because 2012 marked its 25th anniversary, several donors were more willing to give, so grant money increased from $13,000 to $22,000.

A generous donor committed to a three-year, $30,000-a-year gift to be allocated to the WRC’s Fort Lewis College scholarship funds and its Educational Opportunity Fund, which helps women increase their ability to be self-sufficient by earning new certifications and skills.

And the new owners of what used to be New Country Auto and is now the Durango Motor Co., have jumped right into the generosity of spirit that is the hallmark of our community. They said they would donate $5 for everyone who liked them on Facebook, and would double the donation if they made it to $2,500. The WRC’s friends didn’t quite make it, but the Aus family decided “What the heck” and wrote a check for $5,000 anyway.

On hand to present the moolah were Marketing Director Megan Aus, Mandie Aus Frazier, her sister, and Tammy Nelson, the wife of general manager Chris Nelson.

During the course of last year, the center helped 888 women with resources and referrals. That sounds a little amorphous for most people, who don’t understand the staff and volunteer time it takes to help a woman turn her life around.

Wiggins told the stories of two women to demonstrate the point.

A 54-year-old woman moved from Telluride to Durango because she couldn’t find care there for her 23-year-old disabled son. Without that, she couldn’t work. Her life was further complicated by the fact that she was going through a divorce. She had paid the first and last month on an apartment, but with no income, she and her son were facing eviction. Seems like a pretty desperate situation, doesn’t it?

Schaerer got her started with Community Connections to arrange for care for the son, and volunteer Enid Brodsky met with her through the center’s 30-Minute Expert program to work on her résumé and develop job-search strategies. The center also hooked her up with a voucher to the Durango Food Bank to stretch her food budget, and provided her with information about low and reduced cost medical care through La Plata County CARES. She is now working full time, supporting herself and her son, albeit with a typical Durangoan’s tight budget.

Multiply all that effort by 888 to understand just how profoundly lives were changed.

The center said farewell to several board members who have completed their terms, including Melanie McLean, who served as treasurer for four years, Victoria FittsMilgrim and Lynne Sholler, and the center said hello to new board members Kristin Nelson, B.J. Boucher and Lesley Gannon Meiering.

Coming up are scads of activities for Women’s History Month in March, so stay tuned.

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While I’m on the subject of the Women’s Resource Center, it’s time to nominate a woman who knocks your socks off for this year’s Extraordinary Woman. Last year’s honoree, Paulette Church, was so deserving of the award, and she gave a dynamite speech that inspired the whole room at the annual luncheon in March 2012, so the bar’s pretty high.

Here are the criteria: She must be a woman who is a leader and is “steadfastly devoted” (now there’s some great wording) in her efforts to make this community a better place; inspires as a role model (they say for women and girls in La Plata County, but most of the extraordinary women I know inspire people of both genders); and works tirelessly to advance equal rights, equality and self-sufficiency in the county.

See what I mean by a high bar?

Nomination forms are available on the center’s website at www.wrc durango.org – click “Events” and then “Women’s History Month 2013.” Completed forms are due at the Women’s Resource Center office by 4 p.m. Feb. 8.

The honoree will be notified in advance, and the award will be presented at the organization’s annual luncheon March 15.

I’d say sharpen those pencils, but most folks will probably be tapping away at a keyboard instead.

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Finishing off the Capricorn birthdays and heading into the Age of Aquarius are Kathy Szelag, Sweetie Marbury, Lee Campbell, Juliet Loftis, Mattie Morris, Mel Owen, Jan Patton, Luke Slater, Laura Shelton, Jack Whistler, Connie Zollinger, Thomas Duft, Brigitte Cunningham, Trudy Mickel, Michaela Cooley, Julia Dodd, Kaitlynn Duff, Darren Wales, Samuel Kidd, Eden Smith and Barb Conn.

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Celebrating positively balmy anniversaries are Darryl and Marilyn Metz, Stephen and Donna Bowles and two of my favorite people, Virgil “V.J.” and Maxine “Mackie” Headrick.

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