Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Bill Darlington | Orange County Rescue Mission
For almost as long as he can remember, Bill Darlington has felt the call to serve others, but it was an invitation from a long-time friend to coach kids in basketball that brought him to the Orange County Rescue Mission (OCRM).
As it turned out, those Saturday morning games were less about basketball, and more about having fun and building relationships with kids, ranging from 5 or 6 years of age to junior high schoolers—most in need of a positive adult role model.
Those meaningful interactions led to more. Bill went from basketball to tutoring to mentoring to recruiting others to OCRM from his church, Trinity Presbyterian. “The most important part in all of this,” says Bill, “is the partnerships between the mission and the church, between friends and friends, and between those in need and the volunteers and staff at the mission.”
A soil scientist with degrees from UC-Davis and Michigan State, Bill naturally sees to it that things grow… whether it’s plants or people.
The life-long Orange County resident is quick to credit that childhood friend and fellow volunteer, Craig Furniss, not only for introducing him to OCRM, but for his motivational leadership throughout their lives. The two met in the first grade at Del Norte Elementary School in Orange County. “It’s fun to do ministry with friends,” says Bill. “He has been my best friend since forever. We go to the same church and helped raise each other’s kids. We’ve always egged each other on, whether it has been in academics or in life. He’s the mover and shaker.”
After recruiting fellow parishioners to take over on the basketball court, Bill and Craig began tutoring some of the mission’s clients, many of whom had been homeless, many have endured substance abuse. “The shelter has a very comprehensive program with the goal of launching these folks back into the community,” notes Bill. “They move them through a progression of steps, one of which is for them to get either a high school equivalency or GED. Early on they get plugged in to a tutoring program that tries to get students over the hurdle. They can stay with the program anywhere from two to four years. So, there are a series of tutors that come in during the week and I happen to work with students on Saturday mornings.”
Bill does a lot of one-on-one work teaching math. “Sometimes it’s high school math, sometimes it’s multiplication tables,” he says. “These are adult students and they come in at all levels. I would say it’s 50 percent tutoring and 50 percent cheerleading, I try to be an encourager and push them along. One of the biggest joys I get out of it is that I get to hear a little bit of their stories, where they have been and what hopes they have.
“That’s really fulfilling to me. They need someone to walk alongside them, to get to know them. Often times I have the same person for a few weeks or even a couple of months until they pass the math test. The math is fun and it’s fun to teach them, but it’s more fun to get to know them, to build a relationship with them.”
Lately, in the era of COVID-19, that has been challenging, but Bill answered the challenge. Say Linda Biedermann, the OCRM’s Educator and Vocational Program Coordinator, “During the COVID crisis, he has spent extra time on several meetings with me to help get us started on Zoom so that he and other tutors could continue to serve here. He also saw our need for the tutors to be able to see the student’s work remotely, so he created stands to hold our webcams.”
For Bill, mentoring was the next logical step. The end goal to the students at the Mission is a job and enough savings to be able to put down a down payment on a home. But what about the level of support after they leave the rescue mission?
“We thought if we partnered up with some people with strong faith and commitment and compassion that we could find good matches who could be friends to these folks,” reasons Bill.
What started as a career-based initiative, turned into something else. Says Bill: “We found that they were looking for a friend. Somebody to share their faith, their problems, their concerns, somebody that wasn’t their case manager. It really turned into more of a life skills mentoring, friendship program and has continued that way ever since. We have been matching up 12-15 people per year and it’s a one-year commitment. Many relationships have continued after the one year period.”
Then came the recruitment stage. “Craig was saying we needed to get more people engaged,” recalls Bill. “Physically, our church and the mission are only a few miles apart and serve the same community geographically. We began to think of ways to get more people involved in this partnership between mainly our church, a large Presbyterian Church, and the mission.”
They created “serve days” when three or four times a year, they would invite 15-20 church members to an orientation meeting to introduce them to OCRM and have them experience what a day of volunteering would look like, whether it was in the mission’s kitchen, the donation warehouse or the clothes store. “It was all about giving them an ‘on ramp,’” Bill says. “Giving people knowledge of what this program is all about, and if they find something that’s really interesting, then we are encourage to get them to plug in to some specific aspect of that.”
Retreats with mentors and their students followed, which enabled everyone involved to grow and strengthen their bonds.
For the plant doctor, it’s all about growth and faith.
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation