Volunteers make all the difference at Douglas/Elbert Task Force

Third of needy families helped by group live in Highlands Ranch

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Ann Zelenka has made a life of helping others in need.

The retired surgical assistant now helps others in a different way. Every Wednesday, going on five years, she’s made the short drive south from Highlands Ranch to Castle Rock to give her time to the Douglas/Elbert Task Force.

The 69-year-old is one of 152 volunteers the task force relied on to provide over $1 million of assistance last year to needy families in the two counties.

“Ninety cents of every dollar that comes in goes back into the operation,” said Joe Roos, director of philanthropy, and one of just 10 part- and full-time staffers with the task force. “If it wasn’t for the volunteers we couldn’t do that. I like to say that this is the greatest love story in Douglas County.”

It’s also a pretty good love story for Elbert County, and the reason Elbert resident Diane Patrick — who prices out hundreds of donations for the organization’s thrift store each Wednesday with Zelenka — signed on.  

“There are just so few services in Elbert County,” Patrick said. “That’s why I chose to volunteer here. The organization helps a lot of people from all over both counties.”

The goal of the organization is to meet the immediate needs of residents who are in financial distress and at risk of becoming homeless. The task force uses grant money, proceeds from the thrift store and financial donations to help pay utility bills and rent.

In addition more than 85 percent of all clients also take advantage of the task force’s food bank on a regular basis, Roos said, adding that the task force also provides items like hygiene products and pet food that clients can’t purchase with food stamps.

In 2012, the task force served 15,684 people in the two counties. More than a third of those who received assistance are residents of Highlands Ranch.

“I’d like to see more people from the Highlands Ranch area get involved,” said Kathy D’Amore, volunteer coordinator for the task force. “Ann is the only volunteer I have from Highlands Ranch, yet 35 percent of our clients are coming out of there.”

D’Amore said the organization is always looking for more volunteers, and that people can work as little as 8-10 hours per month. She does ask, however, that volunteers make a six-month commitment up front. People can do anything from pricing donation items, to doing data entry or working in the client services area, the food bank, donation intake or helping out in the thrift store.

"We give them the opportunity to really try out the different tasks and see what they enjoy doing the most," D'Amore said.

Last year task force volunteers provided 28,482 hours of service – the equivalent of 19 full-time staff. Community service volunteers added an additional 4,138 hours.

For more information, visit www.detaskforce.org or call 303-688-1114. The Douglas/Elbert Task Force is located at 1638 Park Street in Castle Rock.

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