Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Shirley Waugh finds it difficult to say no to any opportunity to help and meet new people.
Waugh, 75, has been volunteering since she worked in management analysis in Washington, D.C., for both the Department of Defense and Environmental Protection Agency. She volunteered for cancer organizations and at her church even before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. Two years later, her cancer was in remission and she moved to Las Vegas, where she has become involved with one volunteer activity after another.
Thursday morning at the Springs Preserve, the state chapter of the AARP honored Waugh during its annual volunteer appreciation ceremony. Maria Dent, AARP Nevada community outreach director, said Waugh was so dedicated to her volunteer work, she showed up to an assignment after getting into a traffic accident on her way to the site.
Besides serving on the AARP Nevada Executive Council, Waugh is president of the Witness Project of Las Vegas, a breast cancer survivor’s group, and also volunteers with the American Cancer Society, Doolittle Community Center and Vegas PBS.
In September, Waugh spent a day at a senior daycare facility, and she noticed the people liked making crafts out of common objects. Ever since the visit, she has been collecting paper towel and toiler paper cardboard tubes in her car, and she regularly hauls them over to the senior center for use in the program.
“When it comes to volunteering, Shirley is joyful about it. She’s inspiring,” said Mary Liveratti, AARP Nevada president and the person who nominated Waugh for the Andrus Award for Community Service, the association's most prestigious volunteer tribute. “Every time I turned around she was volunteering for something different. I was astounded. How can this one person do all these things?”
Waugh has also recently been nominated for the AARP’s National Volunteer Advisory Council.
The Sun sat down with Waugh before she received her award to discuss her passion for volunteerism:
One of the first places where you got involved when you moved to Las Vegas was the Doolittle Senior Center. What kind of work do you do?
Seniors need love, and they need a smile. I visit people who are ill, mostly friends, but people I know who are ill, and I help them out. … It’s just something you do if you know someone who needs help. Maybe you call them because sometimes they need just to talk. I feel like if you can put a smile on someone’s face and be nice and kind, that little gesture can go a long way.
What’s your pitch to people who say they want to volunteer but have not done it yet?
It’s important to help. Service is rewarding. It’s more rewarding to give of yourself than to take.
Is there a big need for volunteers to work with cancer patients in the valley?
Oh, yes. We go to (University Medical Center) regularly for a discussion group. You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t admit they have cancer and don’t share. You have to share because you can save a life. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I told everyone because I found it and the mammogram didn’t. I had just had a mammogram, but it didn’t catch it. I’m still in touch with the people that I met at the time in ’97, and I didn’t know them before I had cancer.
Did someone influence you to get involved in volunteering, and where do you find all the time?
I was just around people who did it, and since I like people, why not do it? My oldest aunt is 91 now and she is still in her church as a deaconess and she plays Scrabble three times a week. She is a 91-year-young woman.
You should see how full my calendar is, but you just make time each day. If I didn’t volunteer, if I didn’t go to the senior center, what would I do? I’m not a couch potato.
How did you react when you heard you won the award?
I almost dropped dead. When Mary Liveratti called and asked if it was alright to nominate me, I said, ‘OK,’ but I was not thinking I would actually win. I was truly surprised, and I’m honored and very humbled. It’s not about me. It’s about the people we serve.