Friday, March 21, 2008

Accidental volunteers

The Proctor Lane alleyway was blocked, so the delivery driver couldn’t get his truck where it needed to be, when it needed to be there. The traffic clog could have produced a nasty confrontation.

We regularly read about tragic results from similarly simple but irritating situations, especially in metropolitan areas.

Think road rage.

However, this was Cambria on a beautiful Saturday, March 8, and good-natured North Coast kindness was about to trump tight schedules, testosterone and anger.

Someone was about to become an accidental volunteer.

Mike Rice, landscape wizard for the Cambria Historical Society’s restoration of the Guthrie-Bianchini House and garden, had parked his overloaded truck on Proctor Lane (the alley between the house and the backs of businesses facing Main Street, including Soto’s Market).

Rice, Jack and Jeanette Breglio and other volunteers began unloading thousands of used bricks donated by Ecotones Landscaping from Rice’s truck bed, bricks that soon will become part of the house's garden.

Then Ed Esquivel from Glass Farm Organic Citrus Fruits, on his way to make a delivery to Soto’s, pulled his truck into the alley.

The brick-filled truck was in his way.

Sure, he could have parked elsewhere (if he could find a spot) and carried the fruit further. Or, he could have ranted, raved, stomped, yelled, cursed or worse. Much worse.

Instead, Jack Breglio said, the kind-hearted Esquivel “got out of his truck, put on his gloves and proceeded to help us” unload all the bricks.

The story gets even nicer: Esquivel “went back to his truck and brought us a sack of his organic oranges” for an after-the-unloading snack, Breglio said, and then, “best of all, he offered to be on our volunteer list!”

Fortunately, that heartwarming story of serendipity and kindness isn’t an unusual one in the warm, fuzzy world of North Coast nonprofit agencies.

For instance, according to Ann Grossman of Friends of the Elephant Seal, part-time Cambria resident Geoff West is “our angel” and another accidental volunteer.

After stopping to see the seals one day, West, who lives in Costa Mesa, fell in love with the massive mammals. He took docent training and became the group’s only “honorary docent,” complete with his official blue FES jacket, even though he doesn’t fill shifts on the bluffs.

West regularly contributes time, money and his significant knowledge. He also “donates money and gifts … and always attends our fundraisers” and other events. Grossman said, “We were truly fortunate when Geoff found us.”

Want more?

Some time ago, a young New York couple was hiking the full length of California. Brock Carter, county parks worker from Cambria, found Matt and Sarah Buchwalder camping in the willows near a local park.
Carter called Chris Cameron, director of Camp Ocean Pines, to “see if I would put them up for a couple of nights. I did.”

The couple wound up staying at the camp for a couple of months, in exchange for painting cabin interiors and other tasks, and the director later hired the two college grads as naturalists for a season.

The camp is the frequent recipient of such unplanned, fortuitous instances, Cameron said. “‘Accidental volunteers’ is how Camp Ocean Pines runs!”

He said Bill and Jean Carter of Cambria found the camp and later, “he made every cabinet and bunk-bed, and she sewed all the curtains in the cabins.”

The late Bobbie Monroe of Cambria attended a string concert at the camp’s amphitheater and soon thereafter gave a large donation toward rebuilding the facility.

Cameron also recalls when a “couple came with their church for a weekend,” but then asked if they could return as volunteers. The husband was a skilled woodworker, so the camp director showed him an Adirondack chair and “a pile of wood we had left over from milling our winter-felled trees.”

The man then built 20 chairs for the camp.

I’m sure every Central Coast nonprofit, school, agency and group has similar tales about “accidental volunteers” and the confluence of good timing and good hearts.

Isn’t it great? Once again we’re reminded how lucky we are to live here — where the temporarily blocked alleyways of life can be seen as good things.

If you have an “accidental volunteer” tale, please post it as a comment here or e-mail it to


Anonymous said...

I've heard people say that Cambria, with all of its winding roads and shadowy hillsides, seems foreboding. What people don't see is just this kind of spirit that the place encourages.

I remember one time walking back to my studio from Silent Partner with an armload of papers. I came to the corner of Burton and Main, waited until I had the full attention of all of the traffic before crossing the street, and promptly tripped, casting all of those papers to the wind. Most of those people got out of their cars to help gather up the mess, rather like an airborne Easter egg hunt, while I stood like an Empress receiving all of the offerings of my people.

Geoff West said...

Kathe, thanks for the kind words. Although Susie and I are Life Members of the Friends of the Elephant Seal - we signed up at the very beginning - and continue to provide financial support to the organization each year, my meager contributions pale when compared to the thousands of hours spent by the REAL volunteers of that organization. When we are in town I always try to spend a few hours on the bluff, educating the curious visitors about the elephant seals. Folks like the irrepressible Ann Grossman - named Docent of the Year this year - Bill and Pat Johnson, Phil and Carole Adams, and dozens of others who contribute thousands of hours each year on behalf of the FES, represent the true volunteer spirit that so permeates Cambria. I'm just happy to do what I can.