Venture into the Clayton OASIS center in St. Louis on a Tuesday and you might see Gloria Curtis in action. She's that smiling face at the desk checking in students for classes, but she wears many more hats at OASIS.
Curtis is one of more than 2,000 volunteers that help make St. Louis OASIS programs available to many more people. She is involved in the Speaker's Bureau, the Friends program for people with disabilities into the community, and intergenerational activities with the local Boys & Girls club. Wherever she goes, she talks up OASIS with enthusiasm. She tells everyone about the classes she enjoys and is armed with a supply of catalogs to share.
Another OASIS volunteer, Sandy Stokes, introduced Curtis to OASIS in 1996, saying "I don't know if this is something that would be of interest to you." It was and continues to be.
"I was newly widowed, and OASIS opened a whole new world for me," Curtis explains. "I've gained so much -- lifelong friends, respect, a lot of laughter -- and I know I've made a difference, too." Curtis facilitates the requests for the Speakers Bureau and organizes the volunteer speakers geographically. And if you need last-minute speaker, "Call Gloria!"
As a volunteer with the Friends Group, Curtis goes on outings with developmentally challenged adults. Some of the events include fishing in Forest Park, Cardinals baseball games and performances at the MUNY - the nation's oldest and largest outdoor theatre. She's been known to wait in line up to three hours for complimentary tickets to the MUNY so that Friends can get better seats.
"Working with the Friends Group has certainly increased my patience and tolerance," she says, and that comes in mighty handy for this mother of five, grandmother of eleven and great grandmother of one.
Curtis represents OASIS in the community in other ways - as a greeter at the Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park, at a theater performance for mature adults at the local high school.
"The greatest reward I have found in OASIS is the people I've met and the friendships I've made," Curtis says.
St. Louis OASIS director Barbara Turkington says she wants all of her volunteers to feel like they are getting as much as they are giving. "Our volunteers are the key to everything we do," she says.
Thanks to Colleen Kohler for contributing to this article.