For 27 years, volunteers have played an important role at RAFT. Because of our volunteers, RAFT is able to make our resources available to the education community for affordable prices.
An example of volunteers playing an important role at RAFT is Jean and Wayne Suzuki. Since the very beginning, they have supported RAFT and help make it what it is today. RAFT Founder, Mary Simon, shares the impact the Suzukis have at RAFT:
Jean and Wayne Suzuki came into RAFT’s life, and mine, in 1996, 25 years ago. RAFT was barely 1 year old. I never knew then what a profound impact they would have on the quality and efficacy of our young organization and for this I am awed and deeply grateful.
I am writing what I know is an incomplete account of their contribution because Jean and Wayne worked so quietly with no fanfare or need for oversight, and expected nothing in return. We do not know the measure of what they have done for RAFT. From washing dishes and filling the salt shakers, to setting up and running top-notch classes and building a trusted computer refurbishing program, they did what needed to be done.
When Jean and Wayne came to RAFT, Jean had just retired from her career as a math teacher, and Wayne from his job at IBM. They brought their disciplined approach to our then scrappy young nonprofit and, with great patience for what often must have seemed to them like an unconventional way to run a business, they stayed. Three, four, five, or even six days a week. Every week. Year after year. They came quietly, and often were the last to leave. Jean and Wayne took RAFT under their wing and into their hearts.
Jean combined her exacting math skills with art, and what beauty that brought to RAFT. The classes she offered were always filled to capacity, and she had a large group of loyal followers who signed up within minutes of the release of the class schedule. Jean spent weeks preparing for her classes, and had packets of materials and supplies prepared for every attendee. I have never seen such attention to detail. Her origami creations, greeting cards, and pins for every occasion were some of the most exquisite I have seen. I still have the numerous beautiful cards that she sent to my mother when she was dying of cancer.
Jean also took on the care and feeding of RAFT’s beloved Green Room and kept the Ellison dies in precise order, changed the laminate rolls, (something I never mastered), developed displays and kits, added content to our educational offerings, and bought (and paid for) paper to restock the colored card stock shelf. Many of the Ellison dies that RAFT offers in the Green Room today were selected and purchased by Jean. She provided caring service to our teachers, going above and beyond for them, living our core value of “Heroic Customer Service”. Teachers still arrive at RAFT and ask, “Is Jean here?”. She is so highly respected.
Wayne busied himself everywhere, doing whatever was needed at the time with such exceptional quality that I trusted him explicitly. At first he, with a group of dedicated volunteers who somehow all seemed to be named Bob, was focused on refurbishing the hundreds of computers donated from Silicon Valley companies. Remember, this was in the days of CRT monitors and tower computers when classrooms had only one computer if they were lucky. The logistics of space for the unwieldy hardware, and addressing the concerns for software licensing and disc drive security by the donor companies were, well, mind boggling. However, I was never concerned because Wayne set the standard, and RAFT earned the trust of Silicon Valley corporations, no small feat. I heard only compliments from these companies on our refurbishing processes and procedures, and on the quality of the refurbished computers passing through our program to our teachers.
Wayne decided to take charge of the toner cartridges that arrived at RAFT by the pallet load. He knew which ones were useful for teachers, and for the others he took advantage of a trade-in program offered by local office supply stores which gave out a ream of paper for every used toner cartridge brought in. There was a limit of one or two per visit, so for years, Wayne and Jean stopped into their local Office Max on their way to and from RAFT and we ended up with many hundred reams of paper for our photocopiers. I learned later that the paper wasn’t quite free, but only discounted, and Wayne and Jean had paid that cost without saying a word.
Wayne also became an expert on fixing our numerous Ellison machines that are used constantly by our teachers, and became recognized, even by the Ellison company (!) as being one of the most competent “fixers” of their products. He kept the equipment in good working order and always seemed to have bits and pieces of a machine coming and going between the Ellison Company and RAFT. Thanks to Wayne, we are still using some of the original machines that we purchased 27 years ago.
I always treasured the few times each year that Wayne would arrive at my office door for a chat as I knew that he had RAFT’s interests in both heart and mind. Now it was my turn to listen, “Let me put it this way…” he would begin, and listen I did. He would talk about different concerns he had, or ask about a decision he did not understand. I had much to reflect on after those visits, but they always made me smile inside. What a gift he was.
Around 2001, RAFT launched a Volunteer Appreciation program to honor the work of the numerous individuals who gave hours of their time to help our cause and, of course, that first year the award went to Jean and Wayne. No one could match the number of volunteer hours they gave us, together more than a full time employee! But then we realized that Jean and Wayne would win the award every year, so we named the award ‘The Suzuki Award’ and were able to honor them and others in following years.
Jean and Wayne have given their time, their talents and significant financial support to RAFT year after year after year. After 20 years at the helm I retired, but Jean and Wayne are still here, still providing support to our staff and to the teachers we serve.
I can’t end without telling you about one more member of the Suzuki family: their beloved dogs, Laddie, then Phoebe, and now Suzie. Their precious pet always accompanies them to RAFT, and can be found lying sweetly in the Green Room under the desk.
Jean and Wayne Suzuki are role models for what quiet, servant leadership looks like. Their lives are beyond inspiring. Their gifts to RAFT are immense. Moreover, everyone notices the deep and constant love that they have for each other which has touched all our hearts.
RAFT recognizes the incredible commitment of the Suzukis and would like to thank all our volunteers for their hard work supporting RAFT and our educational community.