Florida Keys News
Saturday, April 27, 2013
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Couple creating volunteer database to help nonprofits

In late January, one Key West couple didn't hesitate to volunteer to help nonprofits count the homeless men and women in Monroe County.

Phil Cochran and Phillis Kramer read about the annual project in the newspaper, called the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC) and attended a training session before heading out to conduct surveys.

"We've led a very good life," said Cochran, 69, an Ohio-born, Florida-raised retired real estate broker. "We've been married 34 years. We needed to pay it forward."

But when the count was finished, the couple wasn't ready to stop volunteering. They asked the nonprofit's leaders, "What can we do now?" Cochran said.

The answer: Volunteers are always needed, but local nonprofits have enough on their plates these days. There's no time to organize and orchestrate a year-round volunteer list.

"This is what we can do," said Cochran, who since January has been laying the groundwork for the creation of Key West Volunteer, the couple's plan to provide a comprehensive database of volunteer troops and launch a website.

"We will contact all agencies under the Continuum of Care and find out what their volunteer needs are," he said.

Right now, the couple is making a public call in search of volunteers, whom they will help screen, and then match their availability and skills with agencies' activities.

Anyone wanting to sign up as a volunteer may call the couple at 305-414-8485, or email papasmurf1219@gmail.com.

The couple has already made its presentation to MARC House and FKOC and planned to meet with Helpline's board of directors this week.

Key West Volunteer's creators understand the need for a flexible schedule. While retired, they carry on an active social life and have health obligations.

Cochran, 69, is a dialysis patient who requires three-times a week treatments. He keeps a digital picture on his iPad of him wearing a hospital cap and gown that shows off his full snowy-white beard.

A nurse dubbed him "Papa Smurf" for the outfit and he dutifully has made it his email handle.

"I'm starting with Helpline," Cochran said Thursday afternoon at the couple's New Town home, which features a carport that has been turned into a very breezy Florida room complete with tiki bar.

In a few hours, Cochran was due for orientation at Helpline, a longtime nonprofit set up to direct people in crisis with services, from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to suicide prevention counseling, and regular check-in calls to elderly people who live alone.

Kramer and Cochran know that setting up the database and website will take some time and haven't had a problem stepping up to the plate themselves a few extra times.

When they got a recent call asking for volunteers to make the annual Taste of Key West fundraiser come to life, the couple said they hadn't any yet but agreed to show up themselves.

"My job is to run around to different places," said Kramer. "Phil will be sitting collecting tickets."

This couple, who retired after a career in Tavares and bought a Key West home last year, has been volunteering for decades, though, and have an impressive track record. They helped start up the Leesburg Humane Society and a cat-only shelter in the same area.

"Lake County now has four no-kill shelters," said Kramer, a Syracuse native whose childhood dream to live in Florida came true by age 30.

They've done Meals On Wheels for the elderly and infirm at home, and helped with PBS station fund drives.

"What are you going to do?" said Kramer, 65. "You can't just go to all these events and drink."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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