Home / Focus / community giving & volunteers July 2011 / Building Hope: Elected officials find time to lend a helping hand

Building Hope: Elected officials find time to lend a helping hand

A group of Arizona lawmakers and others volunteered their time in May to help build a home in downtown Chandler through Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona.

From something as grand as helping build a house or as simple as dropping off supplies at a fire station, Arizona lawmakers give back to their communities.

One senator keeps special figurines on her desk to represent the people one of her favorite charities helps. For another, she helps the less fortunate based on a “scriptural command.”

We talked to a few senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle to find out what charitable activities fill their hearts and time outside of the Legislature.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema D-Phoenix

Lawmakers typically limit their desk adornments to donkeys or elephants to represent their political affiliation. However, seven ceramic cows occupy Kyrsten Sinema’s office and Senate desks, and they represent something very close to her heart.

The “Cow Project” is a fundraiser for one of her favorite charities, The AZ Lost Boys Center.

This organization provides assistance and scholarships to the “lost boys,” who were given refugee status in the United States after they became orphans from the civil war in Sudan. The cow figurines represent the significance of the animal in the boys’ way of life in Sudan.

Sinema also participates in a number of other nonprofits with roots in Africa, but her volunteerism isn’t limited to one continent.

Locally, she serves on the board of the YWCA, which works on women’s issues and eliminating racism.

“What I love about nonprofits is that there are so many areas where you can make an impact without it being that difficult, frankly,” Sinema says.

Sinema ran a marathon in January to raise money for the American Red Cross of Southern Arizona, one of U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords’ favorite charities. Sinema says she raised more than $10,000 through contributions from friends and co-workers, which was donated to the charity in Giffords’ name.

“It’s one of the privileges of being elected,” Sinema says. “I can help not just as a legislator influence over policy, but I can also help groups that are doing good work in the community.”

Sen. Nancy Barto R-Phoenix

For Sen. Nancy Barto, helping people in need is nothing less than a “scriptural command.”

“I believe everything we have comes from God,” Barto says. “When you are faced with a need, you meet it if at all possible.”

She donates time mainly through her church, Pure Heart Christian Fellowship. Barto says ever since she and her husband were married 33 year ago, they have supported many people who are devoting a good portion of their lives to ministry.

The ministries she helps work in locations across the globe, including in the Middle East, Romania, China and Honduras. Barto also works with a ministry that helps feed people locally.

Her daughter volunteers in a church ministry called “Mending the Soul,” a group that helps women who are coming out of prostitution. She also gives her time to “Rag Collection,” a project that aids inner city schools.

Barto says she has been responding to the needs of those who she and her family have come across throughout their lives.

Rep. Amanda Reeve, R-Phoenix

Rep. Amanda Reeve didn’t let the fact that she was raised on a ranch and unsure of her homebuilding skills stop her from participating in a project for Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona.

She joined a group of lawmakers in May who volunteered to help build a home in downtown Chandler. “It was a unique opportunity I didn’t want to turn down,” Reeve says.

Although she may have been a bit green on building codes and hammering nails, she made it through to completion — and so did the house — which gave her a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for helping others. “I would do it again, absolutely,” she says.

A few years ago Reeve also participated in the clean-up of Rio Salado Parkway, an effort coordinated by the Thunderbird Chapter of the Academy of Certified Hazardous Materials Managers. Reeve says the goal was to “transform it into something people want to walk by.”

Reeve says her busy schedule makes it hard to find the time for all the volunteering she would like to do. But, she adds, “You really can make a difference in a couple of hours.”

Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix

Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor focuses her charity efforts on helping children.

She started the Landrum Foundation in 1996, which is committed to providing young children with educational enrichment. The foundation’s original focus was working with children from age 8 through 18 to improve their reading, writing, and math skills. If they successfully complete the program, the foundation pays their college tuition.

The program proved successful, but Landrum Taylor also saw a way to increase its effectiveness.

“We were playing catch-up all the time, and then finally they (the children) would get on track and we would get them sailing,” Landrum Taylor says. To eliminate having to play catch-up, the obvious answer for the Landrum Foundation was to open a preschool. “We figured if we go younger they wouldn’t have to worry about catch-up in life.”

Landrum Taylor is also active in helping children who are aging out of the foster care system. She says statistics regarding this group of older children were alarming when she was first elected in 1999. Many were either addicted to drugs, incarcerated or homeless.

She also started a project nine years ago to help grandparents who are legal guardians of their grandchildren. Her efforts resulted in the Grandfamilies Place Apartments, scheduled to begin construction in August.

Rep. Terri Proud R-Tucson

Rep. Terri Proud says her family instilled the importance of volunteering in her, and she, in turn, instilled it in her 14-year-old daughter.

She recalled seeing her daughter watching TV one day when a commercial came on showing children starving in other countries. “I looked over and she’s crying,” Proud says, “and she’s like ‘Oh my God, we have to do something.’”

Proud recently drove an SUV packed with donated water, Gatorade, and other essentials to fire departments in Cochise County fighting recent wildfires.

“If there’s a need out there, I think we have an obligation as people to get involved,” Proud says.

The donation drive was a coordinated effort of local businesses and the Arizona Chapter of Smart Girl Politics, a nonprofit consisting of conservative women, of which Proud is a member.

Proud says volunteering doesn’t necessarily have to mean getting involved with a big service project or organization. The little everyday things count, too. “If you see someone homeless who’s on the street, what’s wrong with buying a little thing at Circle K, if you’re there, and giving it to them? If you have spare change, donate that,” Proud says. “If you’re at the Humane Society and you see that they need help, ask to volunteer your services.”

The federal government shouldn’t have to be the one helping people, Proud says, “God made us the hands and feet…so we just need to do more.”

Treasurer Doug Ducey

Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey focuses his volunteer efforts on education and helping children and families.

“(Education) is a real differentiator in a young person’s life and it can make a real difference in the direction an individual goes,” Ducey says.

He serves on the State Charter School Board and says he likes what those schools are doing for public education.

One of Ducey’s favorite organizations is Teach for America. “I think they do an incredible job by going into the toughest situations and lowest income districts, and they have a relentless pursuit of results.” Ducey says. “They accept no excuses and they make a difference in kids’ lives.”

Ducey says working on bettering K-12 education as well as higher education will make a positive impact on society, a stronger economy, and a better place to live in general.

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