The volunteer Co-Chairs of the 2009 Venice Art Walk & Auctions, Leslie Adler (left) and Mary Jensen. "It has drawn me much closer to my community and helped me realize how lucky we are to live here," Jensen says.
Think you have to know health care to volunteer for Venice Family Clinic? Think again

One of the most accessible volunteer opportunities – the Venice Art Walk & Auctions – is just weeks away.

Last year, nearly 1,500 people volunteered for Venice Family Clinic. Why? Partly because the Clinic’s mission – to provide free, quality health care to people in need – resonates so deeply in every segment of society. But also because Venice Family Clinic offers so many ways to get involved.

Nearly 500 physicians donate their services, either at Venice Family Clinic or in their own offices. Dozens of professionals sit on the Clinic’s three Boards and 14 committees to lend their experience in medical practice, finance, law, government relations, technology, and fundraising. Other volunteers help with clerical tasks, or read to pediatric patients in the waiting room, or collect data for quality improvement.

Then there are the more than 600 people who volunteer at the Clinic’s annual Venice Art Walk & Auctions. They know art and architecture and food. They know event planning. They know Venice and they want to know even more about it.

Some, like Co-Chairs Leslie Adler and Mary Jensen, spend more than nine months developing events, securing artists and homeowners, and going over finer points, even down to the cotton in the t-shirts.

“I just love putting all the pieces a puzzle,” Adler says. “It’s such a thrill working with so many amazing committee members and then seeing the final results in those five events.”

There are five ticketed events this year: The “Donut Jamboree” Art Happening (a deliberately overstocked arty party with the artists) on April 30, followed by three Art & Architecture Tours (from Venice to Rustic Canyon and back) on May 16 and 17, and the legendary Venice Art Walk & Auctions (featuring 60+ artists’ studios and an unbelievable 400-piece silent art auction) on May 17.

Adler has been volunteering on the event for more than 20 years.

“What excites me is that it’s an event that brings the whole community together for all kinds of reasons, but the theme is art – and we incorporate that in different ways to make it a special event,” she says.

Her volunteer Co-Chair agrees.

“I love watching people look at the art, especially kids,” Jensen, herself a new mom, says. “You get all these great artists represented in a totally un-intimidating environment, and people really relax. The bustle of the school hallways encourages people to interact, and the bidding makes for a really lively experience. It's nothing like a quiet, white-walled gallery show.”

The 30th anniversary Venice Art Walk & Auctions is only about four weeks away, and again it will take the combined efforts of hundreds of individuals and organizations to make it a success. While many charity fundraising events barely break even, the Venice Art Walk & Auctions – thanks to its heavy emphasis volunteerism – nets more than $500,000 each year for Venice Family Clinic.

It also means a lot to Venice.

“It connects all the different types of people who make up Venice – residents, artists, local businesses,” Jensen says. “It has drawn me much closer to my community and helped me realize how lucky we are to live here.”

With this being National Volunteer Week, now is as good a time as any to sign up as a studio host, a silent art auction registrar, a tour bus guide, or one of the more than two dozen other volunteer roles. In exchange for a single two-to-three-hour shift, all volunteers enjoy free admission to the Sunday, May 17, Venice Art Walk & Auctions – a $50 value – the savings from which they’re encouraged to apply to, say, a piece of art for their homes.

It’s a fundraiser, after all.

“I’ve been very fortunate all my life and I don’t take that for granted,” Adler says. “Especially now, in the tough times we’re going through. The bottom line is we’re raising funds for Venice Family Clinic. And today that’s more important than ever.”

This story appeared in the April 2009 issue of Short Story. Click here to view the entire e-newsletter.

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