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Village Stories 2014

Stepping Forward To Gain Traction: Spotlight on Beth Burnside 

by Karin Evans, Ashby Village Volunteer

If there’s anyone around Ashby Village these days who exemplifies the qualities of leadership, it’s Beth Burnside, Professor Emerita of Cell and Developmental Biology and retired Vice Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley. Currently a member of the Ashby Village Leadership Team for 2014, Beth is devoting her considerable experience and energy to finding fresh ways to keep Ashby Village vital and viable.

She’s no stranger to challenges. While at the University, she oversaw the reorganization of the Life Sciences Department and went on to streamline administrative procedures for science researchers. Once retired, she was looking for a different kind of involvement. Beth found Ashby Village a few years ago after reading an AARP article that explored the village movement taking root across the U.S. “I thought, this is such a good idea,” she recalls. “It was also timely for me because I live alone, and it appealed to me to join people who wanted to have that kind of community.

I wondered at the time whether there might be something like that in Berkeley.” A year went by and Beth received an email describing the mission and goals of Ashby Village. “I thought, ah, there is one in Berkeley. I immediately asked for the forms and joined up.”

Once a member, it took Beth no time to get to work. “I felt very passionately about the village’s mission,” she recalls. She took the volunteer training, became a major donor, and got involved with organizational aspects. Like other villages, Beth points out, Ashby Village faces challenges--how to offer the needed services, keep the fees down, and make it all work. “The aim for Ashby Village this year is to get traction,” she says.

Beth currently chairs the Ashby Village Neighborhood Group Council. “I have primarily been trying to get these neighborhood groups alive, starting with the Kensington one, working with Betty Webster. We get together once a month to figure out ways to help the groups thrive and get them started where no one has stepped up to be a coordinator. People from groups that are already active are volunteering to make themselves available to others who want to start up.” Right now, the team is looking for people to head up the neighborhood groups in North Berkeley and in the Elmwood. It can be a challenge sometimes to find people to take the lead, Beth admits.

“People are often tired of responsibilities and don’t want to necessarily take on new ones.” But she will be the first to say that the rewards of jumping in can far outweigh the amount of work involved. Plus she still has time to engage in the artwork she always wanted to do but had postponed when she was working at the University. She also wants to keep a hand in her science research, which casts light on the mysteries of sight and the prevention of blindness.

“I have very much enjoyed my involvement with Ashby Village,” Beth says. “The Village gathers together a remarkable group of people. It’s an amazing organization, and I must say I have been quite in awe of how effective it is, and the fact that it runs mostly with volunteers. I am awestruck by the dedication and sophistication of the Board. They have really good people who know a lot about what they are doing, and it is very generous of them to be so dedicated. I haven’t met anyone I haven’t liked, and that’s not something you can say about too many groups!”
Photo by Nancy Rubin

How Rewarding it is to Just Give of Yourself: Profile of Volunteer Jimmy Baker 

by Karin Evans, Ashby Village Volunteer

Jimmy Baker has carted books, walked dogs, ordered ferry tickets, watered plants, and done a lot of listening in the course of his volunteer work for Ashby Village. But he’s wise enough to say no to some jobs, electrical work, for instance or lengthy excursions to Costco. "I know my limitations," says Baker, with a chuckle.

"I heard about Ashby Village around four years ago," says Baker, now one of the Village’s most active volunteers. "I had just moved from San Francisco to a second home in Oakland when I saw a segment about Ashby Village on the local TV news. I liked the village concept, I loved the idea of community, and I thought volunteer work would be a good way to give back. So I decided to contact them."

Baker’s first task for a Village member was helping a woman downsize her book collection. "She was consolidating. On my first visit, I took the books down off the shelves for her, and then she spent a few days going through them. I came back later to help re-shelve the ones she wanted to keep, and take others to the bookstore for her. "I was a little nervous on that first visit," Baker admits, "but once I got into it, my whole anxiety about going into someone’s home, or wondering how they would react to my efforts, was all released. It was very easy.

From that very first day, I enjoyed volunteering so much that I now do it twice weekly, and fill in on other days when I can." A native of Decatur, Georgia, Baker had lived in San Francisco for some 30 years before crossing the Bay to Oakland. He still works full time in the city as a senior business analyst for Experian, a major credit reporting agency. "I can’t retire just yet," he says, but with the full support of his company, he spends what time he can helping out with Ashby Village requests.

By now he has several "regulars," members he sees weekly. Baker meets with one woman every Wednesday. "I just walk in and say, ‘What do you need for me to do today?’ She usually has a long list." On Friday, he visits another member and walks her dog. "But I am there to help in any way that I can," he says. Recently, he helped her buy some tickets online so she could take the ferry to the Giants game. And always, on any visit, Baker spends some time just chatting.

"I know I am the eyes and ears of Ashby Village, to make sure everybody is doing okay at home," he says. "I find that people like that, that they feel reassured that someone is coming to their homes to check in and talk with them." For Baker, it is sheer pleasure. "I just love talking with the people. I have always enjoyed history, and I love hearing the stories, about the Bay Area and how it has changed. I have seen a lot of change in 30 years, but they have seen so much more. I get some living history."

Experian, Baker’s employer, not only encourages its employees to volunteer for good causes, it offers financial donations to the organization involved. "If I do 50 hours of service, they give $500 to the nonprofit," explains Baker. So far, his time spent helping members has resulted in a donation of more than $2000 to Ashby Village. "I just keep an Excel spread sheet of my hours, and submit the request for the company to give matching funds. Experian is very much into encouraging its employees to do volunteer work, and community service around the world. I am so thrilled that my organization supports this."

Baker says it's his impression that more and more companies are beginning to offer similar encouragement and support to employees who do volunteer work. "I have really grown to realize how rewarding it is to just give of yourself," says Baker. "We humans get this nice feeling when we give, whether time or money, when we are just helping another individual. People are so appreciative. Every single time when I am leaving, the members say, 'Thank you so much for coming by.' I get so much joy from the people I work with."
Photo by Nancy Rubin