When it comes time to count the difference a person has made in their community, Tibby Larson can't do it on one hand or two hands, or even the hands of all the staff at the City of Salem.
Tibby would need the help of hundreds of thousands of hands to make the tally. That's how many she has recruited to help the City of Salem over her two decades as our Parks Volunteer Coordinator.
She retired October 1 and admits to being a bit anxious, but also a little excited ,about her changing circumstances.
"I'm excited about not having to get up early every day," Tibby says. "Five a.m. for all these years gets old."
She has a few plans in mind, like spending time one-on-one with each of her grandchildren, learning how to cast on and cast off so she can take her knitting to the next level, taking yoga, and seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.
Tibby's career didn't start with volunteers. After college, she took a job as an elementary school teacher.
"I didn't like it," she says.
Then she went back to school to study child psychology.
"That was kind of scary to me, as well," she says. "I realized I wanted to do fun things with children."
She first found those "fun things" working 10 years at the YMCA in childhood and camp programs. Them she worked another 10 years for the Girl Scouts, recruiting volunteers and training volunteer leaders.
When Salem's Volunteer Coordinator job arose, Tibby was ready to "hone and perfect" the fledgling program.
"The volunteer program had been in existence for about four years, but it was real tiny and not much was written down," she says. "There was nothing written down about safety."
Coming from the Girl Scouts, safety was a top priority, so she worked with Salem's Risk Manager at the time, Sharee Emmons, to develop safety procedures and regulations that made sure volunteers could be insured.
While volunteer coordinators don't usually see much fame on the job, Tibby received her 15 minutes over the notorious "attack owl" incident. When a jogger in Bush Pasture Park was attacked and knocked down by an owl, it made front-page news in the
Salem Statesman-Journal. That's where Rachel Maddow of CNBC heard about it and interviewed Tibby for her national television show. The logo for the episode was a caution sign bearing a silhouette of an owl swooping down on a jogger.
"We asked Rachel's permission to use that sign and she gave us permission," Tibby said. The Parks Foundation printed signs on corrugated plastic and sold them for $30 each. "They funded a bunch of new play equipment at Bush Park."
Mark Becktel, Public Works Assistant Director, put Tibby in charge of all attack owl correspondence.
"I answered more than 200 emails," she says. "People all across the US had written."
The incident also spawned several local beers including one called "Hoot Attack," from Gilgamesh Brewery.
Volunteers of all ages have been involved with Salem's programs.
"Whatever age contacts us and wants to volunteer, we try to accommodate them," she says. "We think of a way and make sure it's a really valuable volunteer contribution."
Sometimes it's a perfect match, and sometimes it's not, Tibby admits. The final year of the annual Make a Difference Day rose garden mulching, was one "not" example. "It was cold, foggy and miserable. All the kids were just waiting until it was time to go home."
Tibby has also learned a few lessons along the way.
"I learned that it's too hard to put gloves on kindergarteners when they volunteer," she says, laughing. "It takes the whole two-hour volunteer opportunity to get the gloves on 35 kindergarteners."
So rather than gloves and wheelbarrows (which are too big for kindergarteners) to spread soft materials under playground equipment, they changed tactics. Instead, the children were equipped with buckets that they could use to spread the materials around.
Tibby is understandably proud of the links that have been forged through the volunteer program.
"I've seen someone come to a volunteer event all alone, shy, but there because they want to help out. After three hours volunteering with people who are like-minded and want to be there to change the community, they become friends and no one wants to go home."
Tibby says she will miss her bosses, Jennifer Kellar and Mark Becktel, who have been wonderful to work with. And the Parks Operations staff have become her family.
"They're such a hard-working and generous group, who truly care about the community and parks, above and beyond every day," she says.
If you're still wondering how Salem's volunteer program has worked with hundreds of thousands of volunteers, Tibby explains. "Though we do have lots of ongoing volunteers, a lot of volunteers are what we call "episodic." They work on Saturday, then another Saturday. We meet them every now and then. There are tons of just one-time volunteers."
"[She] singlehandedly multiplied her one FTE (full-time equivalency) into hundreds of thousands of community hours to help the entire City of Salem," said Peter Fernandez," Salem's Public Works Manager.
While Tibby has lots of plans to keep active with grandkids, travel, crafts and exercise, she's also planning to be part of the City's volunteer corps.
"I will not stay away," she says. "I'll be volunteering at Parks and Center 50+. I'm also open to other volunteer gigs."
Tibby's successor as Salem Volunteer Coordinator is Amanda Sitter, who can be reached at
[email protected] or 503-589-2197.