How Rewarding it is to Just Give of Yourself: Profile of Volunteer Jimmy Baker
by Karin Evans, Ashby Village Volunteer
Jimmy Baker has carted books, walked dogs, ordered ferry tickets, watered plants, and done a lot of listening in the course of his volunteer work for Ashby Village. But he’s wise enough to say no to some jobs, electrical work, for instance or lengthy excursions to Costco. "I know my limitations," says Baker, with a chuckle.
"I heard about Ashby Village around four years ago," says Baker, now one of the Village’s most active volunteers. "I had just moved from San Francisco to a second home in Oakland when I saw a segment about Ashby Village on the local TV news. I liked the village concept, I loved the idea of community, and I thought volunteer work would be a good way to give back. So I decided to contact them."
Baker’s first task for a Village member was helping a woman downsize her book collection. "She was consolidating. On my first visit, I took the books down off the shelves for her, and then she spent a few days going through them. I came back later to help re-shelve the ones she wanted to keep, and take others to the bookstore for her.
"I was a little nervous on that first visit," Baker admits, "but once I got into it, my whole anxiety about going into someone’s home, or wondering how they would react to my efforts, was all released. It was very easy.
From that very first day, I enjoyed volunteering so much that I now do it twice weekly, and fill in on other days when I can."
A native of Decatur, Georgia, Baker had lived in San Francisco for some 30 years before crossing the Bay to Oakland. He still works full time in the city as a senior business analyst for Experian, a major credit reporting agency. "I can’t retire just yet," he says, but with the full support of his company, he spends what time he can helping out with Ashby Village requests.
By now he has several "regulars," members he sees weekly.
Baker meets with one woman every Wednesday. "I just walk in and say, ‘What do you need for me to do today?’ She usually has a long list." On Friday, he visits another member and walks her dog. "But I am there to help in any way that I can," he says. Recently, he helped her buy some tickets online so she could take the ferry to the Giants game. And always, on any visit, Baker spends some time just chatting.
"I know I am the eyes and ears of Ashby Village, to make sure everybody is doing okay at home," he says. "I find that people like that, that they feel reassured that someone is coming to their homes to check in and talk with them." For Baker, it is sheer pleasure. "I just love talking with the people. I have always enjoyed history, and I love hearing the stories, about the Bay Area and how it has changed. I have seen a lot of change in 30 years, but they have seen so much more. I get some living history."
Experian, Baker’s employer, not only encourages its employees to volunteer for good causes, it offers financial donations to the organization involved. "If I do 50 hours of service, they give $500 to the nonprofit," explains Baker. So far, his time spent helping members has resulted in a donation of more than $2000 to Ashby Village. "I just keep an Excel spread sheet of my hours, and submit the request for the company to give matching funds. Experian is very much into encouraging its employees to do volunteer work, and community service around the world. I am so thrilled that my organization supports this."
Baker says it's his impression that more and more companies are beginning to offer similar encouragement and support to employees who do volunteer work.
"I have really grown to realize how rewarding it is to just give of yourself," says Baker. "We humans get this nice feeling when we give, whether time or money, when we are just helping another individual. People are so appreciative. Every single time when I am leaving, the members say, 'Thank you so much for coming by.' I get so much joy from the people I work with."