The people honored Monday at the 16th annual Los Angeles County Volunteer Recognition and Awards luncheon had at least one thing in common--they give selflessly of their time when a heavily burdened staff can't.
"This is a good opportunity to really thank them for the job they do and the difference they make in the lives of people," said Evelyn Gutierrez, director of the county's Office of Workplace Programs.
Several San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley residents were among those honored Monday from among the 80,000 people who volunteer their time in county departments.
They included Stephen and Susan Forstadt of Calabasas, who are child advocates with the Los Angeles County Superior Court; James Russell Davenport, who supports the 12-step program for alcoholics at the Acton Rehabilitation Center, and Walter and Annapegg Eckroth, who are members of the High Desert Hospital Auxiliary in Lancaster.
Also honored were Millie Ritter, who volunteers at the San Fernando Mental Health Office in Mission Hills; Audrey Jeanne Taylor, who leads tours of the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall; and Eric Hernandez and Melik Hagopian, who work at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar.
Hernandez, 18, has logged more than 100 hours in his five months at Olive View. He originally enrolled in a tattoo removal program to rid himself of the four he got as a gang member in North Hills.
He said he initially thought he'd only be asked to answer phones and help with paperwork to fulfill his 16-hours-per-tattoo requirement. But he said his experience working with patients, doctors and nurses helped him decide to pursue a career in the medical field.
The Forstadts were ready to retire from their clothing manufacturing business when they decided to lend a hand five years ago.
The Calabasas residents are among the 300 volunteers working as "voices for the children" at the courthouse in Monterey Park. They meet with those who enter the foster care system, evaluate their needs and report to Juvenile Court judges on how to help them.
Stephen Forstadt said, "You don't have to have special skills to do this. If you care and have common sense, the average person can do more in many cases . . . "
" . . . just by asking some simple questions," said Susan Forstadt, finishing his sentence.