Celebrating the Power of Volunteerism

Tyler sharing his art foil creations at the Santa Cruz Maker Fair.

It has been a busy month of celebration at the Volunteer Center. Earlier this month we celebrated  National Volunteer Week and last week as the Volunteer Initiative Program Coordinator, I had the opportunity to celebrate twenty of our outstanding volunteers who give their time to the departments within the County of Santa Cruz.

This annual ritual of celebrating individuals of all ages who step up to make our community a better place to live, helps to renew and deepen my appreciation for the powerful impact of volunteerism. This week I found myself reflecting on the relevance that volunteerism has had on both my career and my personal life.

While I’ve held numerous jobs,  my current role of connecting volunteers has been one of the most satisfying. I’ve been a Secretary, a File Clerk, a Data Entry Clerk, a Human Resources Recruiter in the high-tech industry, and a Career Development Specialist for young adults with special needs. What I think is unique about my current job role is that it checks all the boxes- I get to put my organizational skills to work while supporting folks in opening new doors, building job skills, and truly making a difference in our community. I also love that volunteerism has given me the opportunity to not only transform and uplift the lives of others but it has transformed my life as well.

Watching my son Tyler, who is on the Autism spectrum, evolve into an active volunteer, has truly brought home the deep value of volunteerism. Throughout his life, in his academic career and social interactions, I have always advocated for Tyler to be treated with respect and normalcy. Tyler will tell you that he is just like any other person on the planet. He is different, not less.  His brain is wired in a way that he takes a different path to get to the same destination as you or I. Volunteerism has opened the door for him to achieve success, establish connections, and build confidence. When Tyler volunteers, either in my office or at an event, he is working with people who do not have a preconceived idea about the kid with Autism. Being in an environment where he is treated with respect, has taught him that he can hold the same expectation and advocate for himself wherever he is.

Additionally, volunteering has allowed Tyler to value his fortunes, take ownership, and build his communication skills. This past winter, Tyler volunteered as a Warehouse Elf for our Adopt A Family Project. This was such an enlightening experience for him. He realized that not every kid received a ton of presents for Christmas and that some families needed help. As a volunteer for the Human Race he was given the role of accounting for race day donation envelopes and ensuring that the information provide aligned with the amount of money in the envelope.  When he found ones that weren’t correct, he would gently explain how to do it properly.

Watching Tyler put himself out there and interact with others is awesome.  He has grown to recognize and trust fellow volunteers as family and now looks forward to reconnecting with folks for annual volunteer events like the Human Race.

Volunteering has also given Tyler the opportunity to share his incredible artistic talents and connect with others by teaching them to create art as well. At the age of 9, he started building toy creations out of aluminum foil. Over the years, these creations have caught the eye of many people who are amazed by the minute detail. When the opportunity came up to volunteer with the Mini Makers Faire, Tyler created a “make and take” activity for kids and discovered a love for teaching. Most recently, he volunteered with the Volunteer Initiative Program at Earth Day Santa Cruz leading a table for participants to create art from trash.

As a mom, it is amazing to see the growth that he has achieved over the years.  Autism is a part of who Tyler is, but is not a limiting factor in what he can do.  Tyler is a wonderful example to young people on the spectrum who feel they are limited in how their life will turn out.  Tyler will graduate this June, something many said would never happen, and he has applied to Cabrillo College this fall to take a course in 3-D printing.  Tyler wants to make art and design toys for kids to expand their imagination. I am very proud of the young man he has become and I am grateful to the volunteer community for spurring his talents, building his confidence, and giving him a greater sense of purpose.

I would encourage every parent to seek out volunteer opportunities for your children. The door is open for young people of all capabilities.


For those wondering how to get started you can reach out to the Volunteer Center YouthServe Program for help with volunteer matching or connections to other teen volunteers.

Through YouthServe, Tyler participated in the Summer Service Institute, a free, 6-week program that helps youth (grades 7-11)  recognize their passion, share their talent and realize their power to transform our community through service. Summer Service volunteers intern with non-profits throughout Santa Cruz County and participate in fun skill building activities throughout the program. Tyler contributed his skills as the official photographer for the Summer program. This opportunity allowed Tyler to interact with his peers on a completely different level. He captured their volunteer efforts and their smiles as they contributed to our community through volunteering.

The YouthServe Summer Service Institute kicks off on June 6th and applications are due by May 15th.

Learn more about the YouthServe Summer Service Institute

High school and college students looking to build job skills can apply for an internship with a City or County Department through the Volunteer Initiative Program and CityServe.

Finally, if you want to support the Volunteer Center in creating every day opportunities for all individuals to build connections that make a difference, we invite you sustain our mission with a donation.


Blog Post written by Donna Patters who serves as our Volunteer Initiative Program Coordinator in partnership with the County of Santa Cruz. As such she maintains infrastructure to effectively match interested community members with volunteer and internship opportunities throughout Santa Cruz County Government.

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