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50 Volunteers Are Acknowledged for Community Work

Times Staff Writer

Elba Guerrero is a Huntington Park mother of three who makes blankets for convalescent home patients.

Frances Divine, 84, logged 700 hours of volunteer work for the city of La Verne last year, sometimes rising at 5:30 a.m. to make thousands of photocopies, blow up balloons and decorate for city-sponsored events and holidays at the community center.

Olivia Verrett brought her first stray animal home to a tough Los Angeles neighborhood five decades ago, horrifying her mother but kicking off a lifetime of helping creatures great and small.

They were among 50 people honored Sunday with a Community Involvement Award in a ceremony at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel. The awardees represented cities throughout Los Angeles County, and were nominated by elected officials and community leaders for volunteer work -- exemplifying the kind of I’ll-get-the-job-done types who often go unsung.

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“There are scores of people in the trenches every day being mentors, activists at the local block level,” said Inglewood City Councilman Curren D. Price Jr. “This a great way to single them out.”

Price, who co-founded the Community Involvement Awards last year with Waste Management Inc., a waste collection and disposal firm, said recipients are the people who do the heavy lifting and fill the gaps when government money and manpower are scarce. He said his hope is that such acknowledgment will help “to foster collaborative relationships, and it gives folks a sense that they’re not out their by themselves.”

Verrett, 62, and now a Carson resident, has continued her pet rescue work while also helping to feed the homeless, support prison inmates and their families and provide conflict-resolution classes for middle school students. Her civil rights work flows directly from those early efforts as a young girl to intervene on behalf of the voiceless and most vulnerable, she said.

“What I do comes so much from the heart,” said Verrett, who serves on the Human Relations Commission and is president of the Carson-Torrance branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. “I have never felt that I was doing anything special.”

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John M. Wolsdorf, 59, also was modest about his efforts in his El Monte community. He heads an El Monte redevelopment committee, is an El Monte Sister City commissioner and is known locally as the “switchboard operator” for his ability to facilitate the connections that end up resolving problems.

Wolsdorf, a Rotary Club member for 32 years and longtime supporter of physically disabled children, said he learned the lessons of giving back to the community early on. His grandmother was president of the Garment Workers Union, and she and other relatives would take Wolsdorf on their organizing rounds. “My ‘Sesame Street’ was stuffing mailers for fundraising campaigns and handing out food baskets,” he said.

Wolsdorf says that he has belonged to at least 174 fraternal, community-based and professional organizations. In the 1960s and ‘70s, he manned phone lines at telethons every year for Easter Seals, the Muscular Dystrophy Assn., the Arthritis Foundation and other organizations.

Now suffering from physical ailments and not able to get around as much as before, Wolsdorf said he is content that his 10 children and 23 grandchildren are keeping up the family traditions of volunteerism, from soccer and Little League teams to other community activities.

“I just feel it’s a blessing I have received to have been able to help people, and that I shouldn’t be thanked for it,” he said.


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