Meet Karen

Celebrating Our Volunteers

Volunteers are an invaluable part of Vivalon’s services. Every day, they are on the front lines delivering meals, providing rides, and connecting with people throughout Marin.


April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and we want everyone to know how incredibly grateful we are to work with an outstanding community of volunteers. They are truly making a difference in so many lives. Last year, 322 volunteers provided over 14,000 hours of service to ensure the needs of Marin’s older adults and people living with disabilities were met.


This month, we want to introduce you to Karen who has been volunteering in Vivalon’s Resource Office for six months and has become an important part of our Healthy Aging Center.


Meet Karen

Karen has been volunteering for most of her life. “It’s the way I was raised,” she says. “My mom and dad always said we should give back. My mom always volunteered in the community, my dad always volunteered in some capacity in his companies, and my children have learned to volunteer as adults, too.”


Born and raised in the Midwest, Karen moved to Marin County and started a family when her husband received a job offer in California. She’s lived in Muir Beach, San Anselmo, and now San Rafael for the last 30 years. Today, she has two adult children and three grandchildren, ages 10, 4, and 6-months.


“Fortunately, they all live in Marin County within five miles of me,” Karen shares. “I get to see my grandchildren every day, so that’s a treat for me.”


Professionally, Karen has worked in jobs that allowed her to be of service to many different communities of people as well. She worked in banking for much of her career, largely helping older folks navigate the lending and refinancing process. “Then I did a complete turnaround,” Karen explains. “I decided to do something totally different with the support of my family and started working with developmentally disabled adults. That was my passion. I worked with people who had Down syndrome and took them out in the community every day, and they volunteered. That was really special to me. I did that for 15 years. Eventually, it was time for me to move on and let someone else take over, and then I got to stay home with my grandkids.”


Karen retired just before the pandemic, and during that time, she was able to help take care of her grandchildren. After the county began to open up again, she was looking for something to do during the day, so she became a member at Vivalon. Shortly after, she signed up to become a volunteer.


Because Karen has a background in banking and a history of working closely with people, our Volunteer Manager, Liz Capurro, thought Karen would be a perfect fit for the Resource Office. “When people sit down in the Resource Office, they’re looking for confidentiality, and when you’re in banking, that’s absolutely the way it has to be. People want to know you’re not going disclosed what they just said. They know that I’m not going to repeat what they asked or what they told me.”


Vivalon’s Resource Office is an important community program. When older adults need help finding a service that Vivalon doesn’t offer—often times it can be for legal or financial advice as well as other sensitive topics—they are referred to our Resource Office where Kelley and Karen volunteer.


In this role, Karen sometimes has to act as an investigator to understand the client’s need or find the right service to help them. “One of the big questions that come in is about being the total caregiver for a spouse and being overwhelmed with their responsibilities,” Karen explains. “They’re exhausted and trying to find resources. We help people find services for their taxes if they don’t have the money to go to a private tax preparer. People also call after they get out of the hospital and need things like a hospital bed to rent. Most of the people are looking for things because they’re on a budget. For a while people were coming to us to find affordable housing, and occasionally I’ll get someone who needs help with their utility bills. Then there are people who, unfortunately, have others taking advantage of them, and that’s tricky because it’s not something we actually saw, so we can refer them to the county elder abuse department.”


In some cases, Karen simply offers a safe place for people to talk. “Sometimes people comes in for one thing,” Karen explains, “and by the time they leave 30 minutes later, it’s totally different. Sometimes they just want to talk to somebody. People are dealing with loneliness or frustration, and they just would like to speak with somebody. Most of the time, people are looking for something very specific, and they’re thankful when they can get an answer, but sometimes they’re still working things out, so for us to just listen to them talk out loud is really what they’re looking for. It’s a little bit of everything, and you have to wear a lot of caps.”


Karen certainly helps many people who visit the Resource Office, and she’s also benefited from her time volunteering at Vivalon as well. “The other day I was realizing there is so much wisdom in the members at Vivalon,” says Karen. “I’m 64, but I’ve had lunch with people who are 90, and they are very interesting people. They still have their health, they’re still going out, they enjoy life, and they don’t want to just sit around. Vivalon is a place where they’re happy, they’re healthy, and they’re safe. I learn something from another member every day I’m there. That’s why I like eating in the Jackson Café. I always try eating with another member that I don’t know. I find out something new, so it’s a learning place for me, too. I just find that Vivalon is very friendly. The staff and volunteers are very helpful. As a new volunteer, you get so much support—I mean from everybody, from the front desk to the programs staff, everyone has been so supportive. If I don’t know something, I’m not afraid to ask anybody. I find it very inclusive. I’ve volunteered at a lot of places in the county, and I’m just very happy that I found Vivalon.”


Learn a little more about Karen:

• What do you enjoy most about volunteering at Vivalon?

I love the staff and the wisdom of older adults.

• Who is your hero?

My dad. He had his 4th child when he received his Master’s Degree. I remember standing up on my chair and I shouted out…that’s my dad?

• What brought you to Vivalon?

During COVID I felt isolated and became a member at Vivalon. It motivated me to become a volunteer.

• What is your favorite movie as a child?

Heidi but I have never seen the ending. I can’t get through it, I cry when they take her grandfather. I’ve probably tried 30 times to get through the movie. I know how it ends, people tell me, but I have never seen the ending.

• What is your favorite family vacation?

My mom and 4 siblings got into a station wagon in which my mom built a bed. We drove from Indiana to Disneyland. We stopped on the way to visit my grandfather in Tucson, Arizona where I remember riding a donkey to the post office.

• What would you change about yourself if you could?

I am not lonely, I prefer to be alone. I would like to get myself out there more.

• What makes you unique?

I am an excellent listener.

• What is something you want to learn or wish you were better at?

I would like to be more disciplined about my physical health.

• What is your favorite place on earth?

We have family property in Sonoma, about 200 acres, we pitch tents, have a fire pit and pond. We go out there a couple times a year as a family.

• Who are the special people in your life?

My husband, two adult children, and three grandchildren.

• Who is your favorite celebrity?

Steph Curry. His hard work, dedication, and family. Also, he is a good role model and humble.


If you’re interested in joining our volunteer team, reach out to us at [email protected] or 415-456-9067. You can also visit our website here. We are always welcoming new drivers for our CarePool and Meals on Wheels programs. If you’re not sure where to start, let us know and we’ll help find a role that’s right for you!


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