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Award-winning volunteer asks more of youth

Dan BurkhartRetired corporate executive Lee Blakemore, 68, leads teen-agers from Union Hill School in cleaning up Grass Valley Cemetery Saturday as they complete community service work required for eighth-grade graduation.
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For the past several years, Lee Blakemore has been on a crusade to give teen-agers the chance to volunteer in the community.

Volunteering teaches kids responsibilities and self-esteem, said the 68-year-old Blakemore, a former Amoco Chemical marketing executive. “We (adults) underestimate the youth – what they can do and what should do,” he said.



For his dedication to the county’s youth, Blakemore will receive the annual Children’s Service Award on March 20 from Sierra Nevada Children’s Services, a Grass Valley-based nonprofit organization that helps parents find child-care services.




Blakemore started volunteering soon after he retired from Amoco and moved with his wife, Nell, to Lake Wildwood in 1993. Since then, he has led dozen of work parties for teens at parks, schools, senior centers and other places throughout western Nevada County.

Blakemore is constantly on the move.

On Friday, he was in Grass Valley at the bus stop near Safeway on Neal Street at 6:30 a.m. to take pictures of four Ready Springs School students on their way to a leadership camp near Chico.

A few hours later, Blakemore was on the Ready Springs campus in Penn Valley to help teacher Mike Pettengill run Club Live, a middle school program that promotes volunteerism.

The students were discussing how to raise money to purchase a bench in memory of Laura Wilcox, the college student murdered last year at the county Behavioral Health Department. Wilcox was a Ready Springs graduate.

“The more you pay, the better the bench,” Blakemore told the 19 students, who will continue the discussion next week.

On Saturday, Blakemore, another adult volunteer and nine Union Hill School students spent three hours raking leaves at Grass Valley Cemetery. (Union Hill School’s graduation requirements include 10 hours of volunteer work.)

Preston Nettles was one of nine boys who raked leaves at the cemetery. Nettles, who also worked at the cemetery with Blakemore a week ago, was glad to see how much cleaner it looked.

“We could see what we did last week when we came in (this morning),” the 14-year-old said proudly. “We made the front look better.”

When Blakemore first started volunteering with kids, he became a geography tutor and mentor at the 3-R School off Ridge Road in Nevada City. The school accepts students who have problems ranging from drug abuse to absenteeism.

Blakemore, whose motto is “Never, never, never give up on a kid,” continues to work with at-risk teens.

“He puts his heart and soul into working with difficult kids,” said Sierra Foothill teacher Doug Faker, who first met Blakemore when Faker taught at the 3-R School.

Like Blakemore, Faker believes community service encourages students to take responsibilities for themselves. Students feel good about the things they are doing and improve their grades and personal lives, Faker said.

“It truly makes (students) feel better about themselves,” said Faker, who has collaborated with Blakemore on a variety of painting and cleaning projects for teens at Sierra Foothill and Memorial Park.

Blakemore said he does not know exactly why he relates well with adolescents.

“I think I have a certain amount of empathy for children,” he said. “I think I understand them reasonably well for a senior citizen, so to speak.”

For the past several years, Blakemore and other volunteers have also been trying to open a youth shelter in western Nevada County. Blakemore, who served on the task force to open a new juvenile hall in Nevada County, is also actively lobbying for Measure A, the $15 million bond measure to raise money for school repairs and new buildings.

Blakemore can usually be contacted through YOUthCANDO, a program he organized in 1997 to help teens find volunteer work. YOUthCANDO operates under the Volunteer Action Center, a nonprofit organization that coordinates volunteers in western Nevada County. The phone number is 272-5041.


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