Martha Beth Arterberry had just about completed an evening of volunteer clerical work at the sheriff's station in Temple City when a boy whose mother had been murdered was brought into the station to await placement at a county facility.
So Arterberry and Deputy Mel Cavanaugh, coordinator of volunteer activities at the station, stayed an extra five hours to take care of the child.
And that was the beginning two years ago of the "Emergency Mammas and Papas," a group of volunteers who baby-sit children who have been taken into protective custody.
"I thought it would help a child to be with one person, a substitute parent, instead of being watched by a deputy who also had to be phoning to make arrangements for the child and filling out the paper work," Arterberry said.
Arterberry has performed that and other volunteer tasks so well that she recently was named Los Angeles County Public Safety Volunteer of the Year. That honor followed her selection as the Sheriff's Department Civilian Volunteer of the Year from a group of 900 candidates.
Arterberry received the county award because of her creation of the Mammas and Papas and the tremendous number of hours she puts in as a volunteer, said Cappy Gagnon, the county's special programs coordinator.
"But she was also chosen because of her talents in coordinating the volunteer program," he said. "The station has the largest volunteer program in the Sheriff's Department, and a major reason for its success is her leadership."
Arterberry spends about 1,000 hours each year at the station, acting as coordinator for other volunteers and working as one of nine Mammas and Papas on call day and night. The Mammas and Papas program has been so successful at the Temple Station, as the facility is called, that it has spread to stations throughout the Sheriff's Department.
Since Arterberry developed the program, the Temple City volunteers have cared for more than 100 children, ages 1 month to 16 years. The children are at the station anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours while deputies try to locate relatives or phone MacLaren Hall in El Monte, where the children are taken if that facility has room. Otherwise, they are sent to foster homes.
Most are children who have been abused or whose parents have been arrested.
Entertaining the children is not difficult, Arterberry said, as she pulled open a file drawer filled with toys.
"We also tour the children around the station and show them how the police radios work," she said. "I tell them this is a talking car.
"I only had one child who became hysterical, and I calmed him by blowing bubbles. We are pleasant and warm people, so we have never had children who didn't want to be with us.
"Each child is given a toy when he leaves the station and the Mamma goes with him if he is transported to a facility.
"The children are innocent victims, and we can make the situation more comfortable for them. It is also the first contact many of them have had with law enforcement, so we don't want them to be afraid."
When Arterberry isn't being a Mamma, she spends three days a week helping Cavanaugh coordinate the program.
She became a volunteer soon after the Sheriff's Department initiated the program in 1982, and although she is reluctant to talk about her personal life, she does say she has been a lifelong volunteer.
"I have done volunteer work since World War II with the Red Cross," she said. "I have also been active in the PTA and USC Medical Faculty Wives and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation."
As head of the volunteer program, Arterberry oversees the activities of 58 volunteers who are involved in a variety of jobs, including staffing the front desk at the station.
Most are retirees, said Capt. Doug McClure, station commander, who views the volunteers as crucial in helping the Temple Station's 200 full-time employees.
"The retirees have a lot of skills," he said. "For example, we have a retired teacher who wrote a grammar book for our deputies."
Volunteers are encouraged to be creative if they see something that needs changing. Suggestions are made to Arterberry, who runs them past Cavanaugh to see if they are feasible. One such suggestion resulted in a new filing system for the detective bureau.
Volunteers are asked to make a six-month commitment and serve at least four hours a week. They work days, nights and weekends, and some of them work at home.
A prospective Mamma must have been in the volunteer program for a year and have experience in dealing with children.
"We'd like to get some Papas," Arterberry said, "but so far we have been able to recruit only Mammas."