The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Volunteers keep Stafford going
BY KATIE THISDELL
The past few days have been some of the busiest in the Stafford County government complex.
“It’s absolutely crazy,” said Ida Ansell, a volunteer at the information desk.
More than 200 people had walked through the doors before lunchtime Friday, a few days before county taxes were due, according to Ansell’s tally sheet. Usually, she records between 50 and 100 visitors during that time.
And she would know—Ansell has been helping residents and keeping track of phone calls and visitors for 21 years.
The self-described active senior is one of about 80 resident volunteers who help in various offices in the county government. The majority are retirees.
Seventeen residents who have volunteered more than 200 hours in the past year were recognized by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
“They’re basically the front porch for the county,” said Jeff Shover, manager of Stafford’s Citizen Assistance and Volunteer Services.
The volunteer program began 14 years ago when the Circuit Court had too much work and not enough people to do it. Volunteers started filling in the gaps, and then they spread to other departments.
Now, they’re in almost every office as needed, doing everything from setting up traffic speed warning signs for the Sheriff’s Office to analyzing the number of volunteer hours for the monthly board report.
“We’re very fortunate to have a great group,” said Shover, who is a full-time county employee. “They know we’re dependent on them. They work, they have responsibilities.”
In 2011, volunteers provided 11,965 hours of labor. That saved the county $311,090, or about $26 per hour, assuming the position would be filled with an employee with benefits.
Shover said he keeps the environment relaxed yet professional. He offers special programs for volunteers throughout the year, including a recent trip to Tangier Island.
“To me, it’s just an enjoyment—I always look forward to Tuesdays,” said Ansell, who volunteers at least one day a week and frequently fills in for other shifts.
Ansell, who said she’s between the ages of 25 and 100, started volunteering soon after she and her husband moved to Stafford, following years of world travel.
“I was getting bored sitting at home,” Ansell said. “I thought, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. I’ll get to talk to people. I’ll get to find out what’s going on in the county.’”
Since then, she’s seen all types of people walk through the doors of the George L. Gordon Jr. Government Center.
Most are pleasant, but she’s seen a few unruly individuals escorted out by the deputy who also sits at the front desk.
Ansell will never forget one visit by a pregnant woman. Minutes later, the woman’s water broke.
Ansell offered to call an ambulance or taxi—but the woman said she’d drive herself to the hospital.
All volunteers have their own unique stories—including Shover, who had to explain to a young boy and his mother why a dead frog had three legs. (It wasn’t a result of water problems, Shover told them. Frogs often have mutations depending on conditions in their environment.)
“We do everything,” Shover said. “To me, that’s just what we’re supposed to do.”
Just last week, volunteer Alyssa Winegarden said she had to find a new home for a turtle. A man had presented it to her at the information desk, saying he didn’t want it to be killed in the parking lot.
She placed it in a nearby retention pond
“There’s never a dull day,” said Winegarden, 18. Her grandmother Doris McAdams has volunteered in the county for several years, and convinced the 2011 Colonial Forge High School graduate to sign up, too.
Now, Winegarden spends Mondays at the information desk, and Fridays helping clerks with paperwork in the courthouse.
“I meet a lot of interesting people—cops and detectives, people that have interesting stories, the older generation,” said Winegarden, adding that she gets along with everybody.
The Northern Virginia Community College student wants to study architecture at Virginia Tech, and hopes that she’ll meet county employees in the field.
“It’s like a really good way to learn about things that you don’t really know about, like how the courts work,” Winegarden said.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975
WANT TO VOLUNTEER?
Applications for volunteering in Stafford County departments are available at the government complex, 1300 Courthouse Road.
But Jeff Shover, manager of Citizen Assistance and Volunteer Services, says that since turnover among volunteers is low, he must find new roles to fill.
“The way to keep them happy is to keep them working,” said Shover.
Contact Shover with questions: 540/658-4526 or jshover@staffordcounty va.gov.