What can a working artist or an auto mechanic do for people in our community who are homeless, hungry, hurting or otherwise in need of help?
Quite a lot, if you follow the examples of LeeAnn Brook, creative director of the Brook Design Group, or John Volz, owner/president of Volz Brothers Automotive.
Charity by design
“I don’t have deep pockets,” said Brook, who lives and works out of her modest studio/home in the Seven Hills district of Nevada City. “It’s not like I can just write a big check.”
Instead, what she’s done since she left her “Boston-to-Bay Area” marketing career in 1977 has been to give away tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of her talent and expertise as a marketing professional and a fine artist.
Hospice of the Foothills, United Way, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Music in the Mountains and SYRCL (South Yuba River Citizens League) are a just a few of the 100-plus nonprofits Brook has supported over the years.
The signature logo – two hands cradling a heart – she created for Hospitality House seven years ago “perfectly captures the essence of who we are,” said Cindy Maple, executive director of the homeless shelter.
Most recently, Brook has pledged to donate 50 percent of the proceeds from a $4,000, 5x6-foot painting of Hirschman’s Pond that is currently serving as a studio backdrop at Nevada County Television. “She’s been really helpful as a supporter of community television,” said Lew Sitzer, executive director of NCTV.
“It’s really gratifying that you don’t have to be a wealthy person to give back to your community,” Brook smiled.
‘I Don’t Want to Wait to Be Asked’
Nobody asked him to do it. Feb. 28, at 5:30 a.m., Volz was busy planning his workday over coffee at Flour Garden. He saw a homeless person emerge from the woods, also planning his day of … survival.
A short while later, Volz threw down a challenge on Facebook: Putting up $250 of his own money, he challenged the community to raise $750 for Hospitality House within 24 hours. Twenty hours later, $1,510 had been delivered to Volz Brothers Automotive.
When she went to pick up the check last week, Hospitality House’ Maple reported Volz told her it was a “love fest” of generosity from the community.
This wasn’t the first time Volz has given to nonprofit organization. About a year ago, he and Brook organized the Volz Brothers’ “What Goes Around Comes Around” charity-of-the-month campaign. (Note: Although Volz is a commercial client of Brook’s, she donates her services for his community projects.)
With the help of corporate sponsors that he recruited, the yearlong campaign raised $500 a month for nonprofits ranging from Hospitality House to Animal Save to the Friendship Club to the Nevada County Food Bank.
Reflective of his current “One to One” campaign, Volz has lost count of how many cars he’s given away. He recalled one of his happiest moments was a time when he simply handed the keys to a hard-working young couple and said, “Here’s your new car.” No strings attached.
“We’ve really scored from him,” said Amee Medeiros, executive director of the Neighborhood Center for the Arts. “Not only has he given us money, he gave us a van – and it’s not just a crappy van. He put a new engine in it.”
Women of Worth has also experienced the largesse of both Volz and Brook, reported Sandy Schmidt, executive director of WOW. Volz donated a reconditioned vehicle and gives discounts on repairs and maintenance. Brook has contributed thousands of dollars from sales of her paintings.
“They are both amazing people with great giving hearts,” said Schmidt.
What’s business have to do with it?
While Brook and Volz don’t deny some of their respective three-plus decades of success in our community comes from their charitable work, it borders on insult to suggest that’s why they do it.
“I don’t do it for business. I do it because it’s the right thing to do,” said Brook, eyes flaring a little. “We all live here. It improves the quality of life in our community. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
Asked if he considered charity good for business, Volz looked baffled. He thinks in terms of relationships, not customers.
He fumbled for an answer: “I’m not a church-goer … giving back is just a way of life for my family and me.”
Then he put his hand on his chest and said, “It’s who I am.”
Tom Durkin is a freelane writer and photographer in Nevada City.