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L.A. Holds Picnic to Say 'Thank You' to Volunteers

September 29, 2002|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Everett Littlefield watched the devastation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks unfold before him on television. He saw the smoking ruins in New York, the stricken faces of survivors at the Pentagon, the wreckage on a field in Pennsylvania.

"I asked myself, 'What is going to be my response to this?' " the 67-year-old Silver Lake resident said Saturday.

Before the dust had even cleared, he headed to the Los Angeles Fire Department to sign up as a volunteer to aid injured people at large-scale emergencies such as earthquakes and riots. He is now trained to do field triage as part of a volunteer corps formed in 1987.

Littlefield, a retired set builder for UCLA's theater arts program, was among the 2,000 volunteers and guests enjoying an annual picnic Saturday at Lake Balboa in Encino that was held to thank them for the countless hours they've donated to Los Angeles.

He views his volunteer work as a call to duty, "like the military," and said it has added a new dimension to his retirement years.

"Like most working people, I spent my life competing with everyone," he said. "As a volunteer, my task is to cooperate with everyone."

There are about 25,000 city volunteers, including 11,000--mostly coaches--in the Department of Recreation and Parks alone. They include greeters at Los Angeles International Airport, crossing guards for school children, and citizen surveillance team members who alert police to crimes in progress.

Picnic participants said they became volunteers for a variety of reasons, from supporting cherished pastimes and participating in important causes to passing the time and making a difference in a small but important way.

Harriet Segurson loves books. She loves to run her fingers over them, examine the "About the Author" blurbs, admire the infinite variety of their covers. The retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher has been a bookworm her whole life.

"When I retired, I knew there would be a lot of empty space in front of me," said Segurson, 64, a West Hills resident. So she went to the Platt branch of the city library in Woodland Hills and the librarian eagerly "snapped me up" before she had even filled out the required paperwork.

Watching his son play on a city-sponsored basketball team made Kirk Ridd, 40, of Sherman Oaks start thinking that he could make a difference, one young life at a time.

"Coaches on school teams often just put the best kids on the floor," said Ridd, who owns a music recording studio. "But the city's program emphasizes sportsmanship over winning."

Ann Frontiera wanted to "give something back to society" after getting a college education "practically tuition-free" at UCLA. The 68-year-old San Pedro resident has been an information desk volunteer at the Maritime Museum for 10 years.

"I tell people where the restroom is," she explained matter-of-factly. The payoff is that she gets to meet people from all over the world because cruise ships dock nearby. "Besides," she said, "if I didn't spend time volunteering, I would just go to stores and spend money."

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