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Sun City residents part of culture of caring

By: Judy Bennett, Special to News Messenger
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Volunteers answer the call in community Editor’s note: This is the second in a monthly series on Sun City Lincoln Hills’ 10-Year Anniversary. Go online to lincolnnewsmessenger.com to see the previous column in this monthly series. By Judy Bennett Special to The News Messenger Sun City residents share a culture of caring throughout the community “Good thoughts in your head not delivered mean ‘squat.’” Best-selling author Ken Blanchard’s profound statement on leadership could be the earnest cry of a determined legion of Sun City Lincoln Hills volunteers who are dedicating hard-earned skills, considerable talents and productive time to translating those good thoughts into fruitful action. Whether in elected and appointed municipal positions, or founding nonprofit organizations to benefit the greater community, volunteerism is clearly defining the lifestyle for hundreds – even thousands – of Lincoln Hills residents. Statistics from AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and the Corporation for National & Community Service confirm that the benefits derived from volunteerism include improved physical and mental health and greater life satisfaction. However, not one of the volunteers included in this column mentioned those factors as motivation for their community involvement. Lincoln City Council member Kent Nakata held high-level positions during his 35 years with Hewlett Packard but he never considered entering the political arena until after he and his wife, Eileen, also a former HP executive, moved to Lincoln Hills from Roseville in 1999. “We immediately bonded with this community,” Nakata said, “and we became involved in most of the community activities even before our boxes were unpacked. We felt at home here and wanted to earn our Lincoln stripes by doing whatever we could to be an asset to our new hometown. But, no, I didn’t think our involvement would lead to a City Council election. I did, however, see an opportunity to help the city reach its ambitious and sensible planning goals, and this is where the path took me.” That path began in 2002 and is about to lead to another election round after seven years on the council, including one term as mayor. Sun City resident Sheron Watkins was elected to the position of city treasurer as Spencer Short was vacating the office to run for the Lincoln City Council. That was the same year Watkins moved to Lincoln from Auburn where she had served for eight years as city clerk. “I’ve been in municipal government most of my career,” Watkins said, “and I saw first-hand how difficult it is to find local residents willing to run for elected positions. I understood the need and I wanted to help.” She relocated here too late to be placed on the ballot but was elected as a write-in candidate. Two terms later, she remains committed to the office and its responsibility to make sure the city is in compliance with its investment policy. Watkins is also a cofounder of the highly successful Lincoln Airport Co-op program that has generated calls from other communities wanting to know how to implement a similar program. Another Sun City resident involved in local government is Planning Commissioner Vic Freeman, who jokes that his calendar “is filled with meetings about meetings.” He has held appointed positions on Lincoln’s Parks and Recreation Committee as well as the Solano Economic Commission and the Main Street Program for the city of Benicia where his wife, Mary Lou, and he lived prior to moving here in 1999. As a former developer, Freeman observed that Lincoln was on the verge of a major growth phase and he wanted to have input based on his knowledge and expertise after 40 years in the industry. He’s quick to identify his greatest reward from this involvement is being part of the completion and approval of Lincoln’s General Plan. Freeman adds that the frustration of a slow bureaucratic timeline is a small inconvenience for the satisfaction of a positive outcome. Appointed by the Lincoln City Council as a planning commissioner two years ago, Freeman has another two years left of his term. “I like to know what is happening around me in my community,” Freeman explained, “and the best way to do that is to get involved by going to meetings, workshops, serving on committees and asking the decision makers questions. Lots of questions!” The most recent civic appointment follows the development of the Lincoln Citizens Financial Advisory Task Force, which assists the City Council in scrutinizing existing revenue sources and suggest ways to leverage those sources on a prospective basis. Lincoln Hills resident Richard Pearl was appointed as chair of this task force, which is assisting the city in eliminating its General Fund structural deficit. “It’s frustrating that this economic situation exists,” Pearl said, “but it is profoundly rewarding to experience people from different political perspectives and life experiences coming together and developing common-ground solutions.” With close to 11,000 residents in one neighborhood, it’s not surprising that some residents formed a new concept. Former educators Cindy Moore and Sandy Frame moved to Lincoln Hills around the same time and discussions about the importance of good schools in a community and the many ways to support education resulted in the 2002 founding of the SCHOOLS Group (Sun City Helping Our Outstanding Local Schools). Today, 180 volunteers work in local schools weekly during the school year. Only 20 percent of the volunteers had prior careers in education, and the majority represents careers from medical fields to engineering to aerospace. Approximately 5,400 hours each year are donated to help teachers and students. “We’re not done, yet, though,” Moore said. “We want the program to continue expanding. There’s no greater reward than knowing we are having a positive effect in children’s lives.” The SCHOOLS volunteers, led by Tom Eason, helped mentor the Lincoln High School academic decathlon team in 2004 to its first Placer County Academic Decathlon victory. In 2006, Roger Gavankar and 12 other SCHOOLS volunteers tutored all 22 students who failed to pass their high school exit exam to successful graduate status. Education consistently falls within the top priorities of thriving communities, and right along with education at the top of the list, is public safety. Larry White responds to emergencies as a retired firefighter and as a volunteer with amateur radio emergency services, storm watching with emergency management, and working with the American Red Cross. White is now chairman of the Sun City Lincoln Hills ERT (Emergency Response Team). This team is FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trained to deal with emergency communication at the highest levels in disaster preparedness, fire suppression, light search and rescue, and disaster medical operations. The ERT and the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) function under the Incident Command System. Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt has activated the group on a number of occasions, including during the 2008 Auburn Ravine and Gladding fires. “We are a group of friends and neighbors who share the same interest and concern for personal and community emergency preparedness,” White said. “We’re ready to assist our community when called upon even though we hope it doesn’t ever come to that. Something else we share is a rewarding sense of being part of something greater than ourselves.” These examples represent the numerous and varied Sun City resident volunteer efforts that benefit local nonprofit organizations, civic agencies, schools, public safety and neighbors in need. “We have the time now to give back to our community,” Frame said, “and we know that the generation right behind us will pick up the torch and carry on when they are able to devote time to help the organizations and people they believe they can help. We’re grateful to be able to do this and energized by the differences and the friendships we’ve made.” Dentinger suggests successful volunteering efforts are founded on having experience and a comfort level in the volunteer opportunities being pursued. Nakata encourages those who have their heart and soul into the project or elected office to just “go for it!” Judy Bennett is marketing project manager for Sun City Lincoln Hills Community Association.