[Editor's note: This column has been updated from an earlier version]
Cecelia Vercesi assures me she has no formal weapons training, yet this SWAT team volunteer is one crucial member of Burbank society.
It turns out, SWAT stands for Seniors With Available Time, and with 700 members strong, the city’s SWAT team can tackle just about any challenge. They help staff the Taste of Downtown Burbank, or a nonprofit organization trying to get off the ground, or a car show – Cecelia’s favorite.
“They are a lot of fun, and that’s probably why I do SWAT,” she said. “They’re a little more active, and I like to do things where I can move around and be out there.”
That’s a prevailing trait of SWAT members – they’re an active bunch who helps with special events as their schedules allow. Dee Call, the program’s head and the RSVP director for the city, says it’s convenient for people who want to help out but can’t commit to a regularly scheduled routine.
Everyone in the group is ages 55 and above; the oldest member is 97.
“I want to be like her when I grow up,” Dee said.
According to Dee, baby boomers are working later in life, which means if they want to volunteer they often need to work around a work schedule. This has created a shift for the program; where organizers used to seek out programs to place volunteers in, now they find themselves meeting community needs as they arise. For example, a volunteer may have an accounting background and will help a fledgling not-for-profit form its business model.
For each of the program’s 700 volunteers, Dee and her team keep notes on each one to properly match their skills and preferences. Some might not want to spend all day in the sun, others may only want to work weekend events that would never happen if not for SWAT. Cecelia makes sure she gets picked for events like Be-Boppin’ in the Park, a car show in Magnolia Park held every August that draws 15,000 attendees and 250 cars.
Marissa Minor, one of the coordinators of that event who works for the city, said the SWAT volunteers are always there, on time, with smiles on their faces and ready to assist.
“Without a good volunteer force it would be very difficult to host our events, if not impossible,” she said.
Without SWAT, the American Cancer Society’s Discovery Store in Toluca Lake would have had a difficult time getting started - it began with a staff of one, and SWAT volunteers helped with the rest. But Dee said hers is yet another city program facing cuts this year – between the grants and city funding the program receives, it is looking at total cuts of $11,000 – about 20 percent of its budget.
“We’re lucky in the sense that the city (has been) the majority sponsor of the program for over 38 years,” Dee said. “We’re … going to be doing some fund-raisers.”
That may be a foregone conclusion – with people like Cecelia ready to pitch in, those fund-raisers won’t suffer from a lack of help.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant to Burbank. When he’s not looking up acronyms, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at 818NewGuy.