By Christine Osborne
For over 60 years, the State Employee Charitable Fund Drive has provided state employees with the opportunity to contribute to the wide range of local non-profit organizations helping people in our communities. One hundred percent of the donations stay right here in the state! The 2017 drive raised over $350,000 for 60 charities; we hope the 2018 drive will raise even more. Don Verbica, Section Manager for Low-Level Radioactive Waste Section, Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control, has served as chair for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ’s) fund drive team. His volunteerism extends beyond the workplace — he received the President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Obama last year. We sat down to talk with Don about the reasons he volunteers and the longstanding culture of volunteerism at DEQ.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I like people, and I like to see people happy.
Tell us a little bit more about your volunteer experiences.
Well, I really enjoy volunteering at the Natural History Museum. I’m a geologist and am passionate about paleontology. I go out on digs to do field work with the museum where I can and explore great places like Utah’s Grand Staircase. Part of my volunteer work involves removing the matrix covering dinosaur bones. It’s painstaking work, but when I’m finished, I’m the first person to see those bones! I help out at museum events, like Halloween at the Museum or Behind the Scenes. I often get to work with kids when they come to visit. I get to talk with them about dinosaurs and dinosaur bones. It’s fun to see their enthusiasm and excitement. When they leave, I feel like I’ve made their day a little bit better.
I enjoy helping my neighbors, volunteering at my church, and helping scouts with geology. I also donate platelets to the Red Cross because my blood type is fairly rare.
You mentioned you volunteer with Meals on Wheels through work.
DEQ partnered with Meals on Wheels many years ago. The agency lets employees use their lunch hour to deliver meals to elderly residents in our neighborhood. It’s been a great thing, both for staff and the folks who live near our offices. Did you know that many elderly people can stay in their homes if they can get a meal delivered to them? That can make a big difference in their quality of life. The folks I’ve met have been so appreciative, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of them really well. You build relationships with people, listen to their stories. Just visiting with them makes their day a little bit brighter.
Can you tell us about DEQ’s participation in the Charitable Fund Drive?
Each year, a committee of representatives from each department meets with local charities to learn more about their organizations and their needs. Division representatives are available to help co-workers sign up online and answer questions. The DEQ Fund Drive Chair (Eileen Brennan is our chair this year) sends out friendly reminders to staff as the deadline to sign up approaches. With over 600 charities to choose from, state employees can usually find a local cause that they support. And by using a payroll deduction, they can provide that support year-round.
What kind of response have you seen from DEQ employees during the fund drive?
Our employees are always really generous. In fact, DEQ employees don’t just contribute to our community during the State Employee Charitable Fund drive. For example, we hold a department-wide Holiday Charity Drive every year. During last year’s charity drive, DEQ collected items and cash donations for The Christmas Box House and Best Friends. In prior years, we’ve donated to the Utah Food Bank, Odyssey House, Rose Park Elementary, Toys for Tots, and the Salt Lake County Animal Shelter. Our Executive Director’s Office was a “Sub for Santa” for the Cancer Unit at Primary Children’s Hospital last year and will continue the tradition again next year. Employees donated money, school clothes, and other needed items to the The Road Home Family Center during our summer DEQ service project, “Fill the Cube.”
We regularly participate in cleanup days on the Jordan River, planting trees and picking up garbage along the riverbank. This past Earth Day, DEQ employees volunteered to spruce up the Unity Garden at the Sorenson Multicultural Center. As with our Meals on Wheels program, we try to volunteer in our neighborhood whenever we can.
Why do think DEQ employees embrace volunteerism?
We work hard every day to protect Utah’s environment. People at DEQ are passionate about serving the public and making a difference. They want the best for future generations and are willing to do what it takes to make that happen. After all, that’s why we work at DEQ! I think our dedication to public service, at work and at home, is the foundation of our collective volunteer spirit.
Don Verbica grew up in small mining towns in Arizona and New Mexico, where almost everyone worked at the mines — including his father — and where he held one of his first jobs. That background led to a lifelong interest in geology, archaeology, and paleontology. After serving in the Navy, he obtained a degree in geology from BYU (but roots for U of U football). He worked in barite mining and field exploration before embarking on his career with the State in environmental quality nearly 34 years ago. Don is married with three children, and hopes to have grandchildren someday. He enjoys spending time with his family, reading, rock collecting, traveling, trying rare and exotic foods, hiking, eating Mexican food (he has a hot sauce collection in his office), walking the neighborhood to talk with people, fly fishing, and collecting old coins as well as coins and currency from around the world.