When you grow up in a household of 19 (yes, nineteen!) children, it might be difficult to set oneself apart from the rest, to carve a niche out and make it your own. When you’re the youngest of the 19, it’s perhaps even more difficult to stake your claim as that individual. Some might bow to the pressure and fade into the background. But not Charles Liotta.
No, Charles has certainly not done that. One of the things he’s done to set himself apart as an individual, both within his immediate family and within the Verity family, is by being an unabating, unrelenting force for good. Everything Charles does aims to push himself and those around him forward, to engage his communities and make life better for those around him. No one approaches volunteering with the same gusto as Charles, which is why he’s our Third Quarter Community Commitment Award Recipient.
Currently, Charles’ primary volunteer organization is the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) Village Program, whose mission is to provide “a framework for aging dynamically in community.” This program holds a special place in Charles’ heart. His mother is now in an assisted living facility in Oregon, and is lucky to have the local support of a number of Charles’ sisters who are able to provide his Tiny Mom (his words, not mine) any and all assistance she might need. There are other elderly individuals who do not have such a vast support network, and may in fact not have a support network at all. So, while Charles would love to live close enough to help his mom, he doesn’t and instead channels that desire into helping those like his mom who may not have such a large support system. That’s why volunteering with the PNA Village is such an integral part of Charles’ being. It helps him bring the small-town mentality he grew up with to an ever-expanding big city like Seattle.
Charles typically “cherry-picks” the more physical labor side of the PNA Village requests, knowing that this is often where people need help the most, and he is in a perfect positon to help out. Recently, Charles helped replace a woman’s front steps. For years and years, she’d been walking up and down rotted steps, each wet season making them more saggy and dilapidated. As she aged in her home, the daily trip became more and more treacherous. With the prospect of yet another wet fall and winter, and the added complication of a cane and a slower pace, it became important to replace the stairs. Charles of course volunteered immediately, though he realized he would need help. He rallied friends, friends who knew nothing about the project or organization, and in one day they rebuilt the woman’s set of stairs. She was in disbelief that people she didn’t know would spend their day helping her. At the end of it all, she had a new staircase, Charles felt good, and the friends he recruited now also help at the PNA Village.
Charles has ingratiated himself with the PNA Village so well, they often reach out directly to him when a more complex or challenging endeavor arises. One such case involved a former professor who carves rocks. Not just chess-piece-sized rocks, mind you, but garden-gnome-sized rocks. This professor is now unable to move up and down the stairs in his home at a decent clip, though his rock carving has not abated. Thus, he needed a new light fixture installed to help with his vision and chiseling. Charles immediately stepped up to help. At one point, with Charles running up and down the stairs to check between the fixture and the electrical box and ensuring he doesn’t shock himself, the professor joked “You’re a certified electrician, right?” Charles responded with “Yes, an electrical engineer even” and off they went chuckling and voltmetering, ensuring that the professor had a new, better light with which to continue rock carving.
Now, why does Charles do all of this, besides all of the awesome stories he hears and participates in? Aside from feeling really good about helping his Tiny Mom that isn’t his actual Tiny Mom, the entire process of volunteering makes him feel good. “It really isn’t that big of a deal,” he told me. “For three hours on a Saturday I can change someone’s entire year, and all I give up was a morning of lounging around and hanging out with my sometimes-smelly dog.” What a simple sentiment that carries such weight behind it. One three hour morning can absolutely change someone’s life. Not a big deal to Charles, perhaps, but a HUGE deal to all of those that he helps.
Along with all the warm-fuzzies, Charles also uses volunteering as a procrastination technique. Why do your own work when you could go help someone else? That’s a pretty good question. Charles has found, however, that just having one volunteer organization in his hip pocket is not enough to truly procrastinate. So Charles has gone out and volunteered for any number of other organizations. Also, it turns out you can make up your own volunteer activities in an effort to procrastinate. That’s some serious volunteering dedication.
Many of us have seen Charles out picking up trash along the parking areas at Verity, even though he rides his bike to work. We’ve also seen him show up at any number of Verity events ready to help. And, this year, Charles put together the 1st Annual CARe Wash and Rummage Sale, where those people who came to get their car washed (for a donation) could peruse a Rummage Sale made up of donated items. He even convinced Jamba Juice to set up a table and donate 25% of their profits. There was also a band, Sundae + Mr. Goessl, who provided a fantastic soundtrack and donated 50% of their profits. All of this meant we were able to donate over $2000 to Teen Feed, another local organization with Verity ties (see our Community Commitment Conversation, Volume 1 write-up for more details on Teen Feed).
Along with these awesome Verity events, Charles often volunteers at Carkeek Park (his local park), where they have a monthly STARS work party that helps clean up various areas of the park, relocate and add gravel to trails, and remove invasive species. He’s also helped at the Miracle League, where he helped children with disabilities play baseball. There are probably even more things Charles does that didn’t even make their way into our conversation. That’s how awesome Charles is.
When Charles sees something that needs doing, he asks himself: “Can I do that?” And if the answer is yes, then he does it. The best example of this is Charles’ not a volunteer activity but now it is activity. There’s a pile of rubble in the park near his apartment. It appeared, to Charles, that some contractors and DIYers dump rubble at his park. And, as we know, where there is some construction rubble, it seems to multiply, especially at night, like a Gremlin. Charles also noticed that the alley behind his apartment had many potholes that were less than ideal for his neighbors and their vehicles. So, instead of merely complaining about the rubble pile and letting his neighbors get frustrated with their worsening suspensions, he took matters into his own hands. With no wheelbarrow and no car, Charles used his bike to collect the reasonably-sized pieces of rubble, haul them back to the alley, and then use them to fill in the potholes. Now there’s a smaller rubble pile in his park and his neighbors have less potholes to deal with.
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