Wendy Davenport really is retired, although her schedule would suggest otherwise. And she loves it that way.
“Oasis has made a new career for me,” she says. “I always anticipated that I would do something when I retired, but it didn’t look like this!”
A former high school and college literature teacher, Wendy was quickly identified as a great candidate for teaching literature classes at Oasis. She also facilitates a popular book group and serves on the Leadership Team at Upstate Oasis, in Syracuse.
The 11-member team of volunteers takes on a list of must-do’s for the Center that range from registration to training new volunteers to daily problem-solving that happens behind the scenes. Wendy’s found she’s a natural for some onstage work as well, speaking to a number of community groups each year about Oasis and how to get involved. She points out that for a teacher, getting up in front of a crowd and talking about something you love is enjoyable.
Wendy serves as the Center’s librarian, and like the rest of the team, works the registration desk and helps train volunteers. Does it ever start to feel like a chore?
“Never,” says Wendy. “All of this is a very important part of my life now.”
Just the right fit
On any given day, as many as 15 classes are offered at the Upstate Oasis Center or one of nine off-site locations, with sponsorship from SUNY Upstate Medical University. Keeping things running smoothly requires people with not only the time, but in many cases, just the right skills.
Who better than a retired television station engineer to handle the kinds of technical challenges that can arise with so many classes being offered each week?
For Gary Hartman, who also serves as a Connections instructor, being the go-to volunteer for technology is business as usual, and a good fit. He’s also adept at working with the database, and pitching in wherever he’s needed, including the reception desk.
“You’d be surprised at the number of things that just come up in the course of a day,” he says. “That’s why the Leadership Team is so important. We’re here to tackle the details, so people can have a good experience with Oasis.”
Food for thought
Tom Murphy started taking classes with Oasis nearly 15 years ago, and he keeps coming back because, like everyone else, he wants to be there. He’s especially passionate about his role as class coordinator for Men of Note, a men’s chorus that welcomes new voices and has a loyal set of regulars.
“There is some kind of energy here that brings us back,” says Tom. “We love it and feel like we have to be here. Everyone is so lively. You can hear the classes going on, and there’s such spirit. People want to learn more. Everyone sure knows when the next catalog is coming out!”
A retired executive chef, Tom moves around the kitchen preparing food for events at the Center with ease. And he handles items that could easily be forgotten: keeping things clean and up to code, setting up tables and even bringing in the occasional baked treat. He also works registration and like everyone on the team, pitches in when there is a need.
“The Leadership Team keeps systems in place and we are always looking for ways to make things even better,” he says. “The staff really appreciates what we do.”
Program and Volunteer Manager Tracie Alexander is willing to give that appreciation some legs:
“I have no doubt that one of the main reasons for the success of the Upstate Oasis program is the dedication, commitment and professionalism of our Leadership Team,” she says. “The team not only works well together, but they also possess an incredible amount of enthusiasm and passion for the work that they do.”
Tracie points to the team’s impact in bottom line terms: In 2015 alone, the Leadership Team members donated over 2,772 hours of volunteer time, which equates to a value more than $63,000 at the current volunteer in-kind rate.
“This allows us to pass along cost savings to our members by keeping class fees very reasonable and competitive with other organizations in the Central New York area that may offer similar classes,” she says.
A place at the table
Putting together the Oasis catalog is no small project, but helping the staff give it a proofreading eye is retired teacher Doreen Murphy’s strong suit.
In addition to a variety of clerical tasks, Doreen coordinates the class evaluations– tallying comments and entering them into the database. It’s important work that gives Doreen a unique opportunity to see how classes are being received.
“Almost 95 percent of the comments are positive,” she says. “The staff and the Leadership Team are always looking for ways to improve things.”
Doreen and her husband, Tom, take all kinds of classes themselves, and volunteer for other organizations, all while enjoying 14 grandchildren. It’s a full life that has exceeded her expectations. She’s interested in so many things, but in the process has learned that she’s pretty interesting herself.
“At this stage in my life, Oasis is giving me something to bring back to my family and friends. Once in awhile, I have something to say that will be of importance, of interest. I belong at the table and Oasis has given me my place.”
During National Volunteer Month, Upstate Oasis is proud to celebrate the service of all its volunteers who make lifelong learning opportunities happen every day.
The Upstate leadership team: Front, from left: Bob Coe, Volunteer Manager Tracie Alexander and Rona Edlund. Back: Doreen Murphy, Gary Hartman, Sue Foster, Nancy George, Mary Jernigan, Melissa Sheremeta and Tom Murphy. Not pictured: Wendy Davenport and Eileen Deuell.
Visit Upstate Oasis in Syracuse.
Wendy Davenport and the leadership team are featured in the 2015 Oasis Annual Report.