Governor signs bill to aid Ca. volunteers

February 26, 2008 7:41:20 PM PST
Governor Schwarzenegger has created a new cabinet position which he hopes will promote volunteerism -- the kind that helped clean up the massive oil spill here in the bay last fall. The Governor calls it the first such state position in the country.

A fire gutted the basement apartment of a house in San Francisco's Sunset district on Tuesday and firefighters called the Red Cross to help find temporary shelter for the resident. That's what retired United Airlines salesman, Michael Lionberger was busy doing. He's a volunteer in the Red Cross' disaster services unit. By midday, he found a place for the resident.

"You're doing that for somebody and so you can sleep at night because you know you made a little bit of difference to one person," says Lionberger.

Volunteers like Lionberger welcome the Governor's action. Schwarzenegger signed an executive order creating the new cabinet level position of Secretary of Service and Volunteering.

"Government cannot do it all. Government can give direction for important things but the real action does come from the people," says Schwarzenegger.

The Governor hopes the new position will make it easier for the state to coordinate local volunteers during natural disasters and emergencies. The news comes in the midst of a major training program by the Red Cross.

"As a matter of fact, we hope to train 20,000 volunteers who can help us when a big catastrophic disaster occurs here," says Harold Brooks, Bay Area Red Cross CEO.

Schwarzenegger says he was inspired by the thousands of volunteers who helped clean up the Cosco Busan oil spill in November. With better state coordination, he hopes to prevent the kind of confusion that occurred early on, when volunteers at Civic Center Auditorium were turned away because they did not have the required training.

Earlier this month, United Way expanded its 211 help line service in the Bay Area. It's a service where trained operators, many of them volunteers, help callers with everything from getting shelter food to job training.

United Way's Michael Lynch says the Governor's action is a win for the non profits.

"Last year, nearly 90 percent of our non-profits that we touch base with relied on volunteers to do their work," says Lynch.

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