Humane Society of Southern Arizona volunteers Tom Carpenter and daughter Kasey, 16, walk dogs along the Rillito River Trail on a Saturday morning in Tucson, AZ. Photo taken Saturday, July 18, 2015.

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There are so many ways to give back in Tucson. 

Opportunities abound to volunteer your time, your energy and your heart to serve the community and its residents. 

Bonus: You might meet some new friends along the way. 

That's what happened to these three women. 

Cynthia Dean, 68, has volunteered as a Pima County Court Appointed Special Advocate — or CASA — in Arizona since 2009. CASA volunteers represent foster children in court proceedings. Basically, these volunteers make sure the kids' best interests are kept in mind. 

Tia Tsosie-Begay, 38, leads Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona's Troop 789 and helps girls create programs, sell cookies and develop confidence. 

And Melanie Cooley, 48, volunteers with a variety of refugee outreach organizations, including Elfa Refugee and Youth Empowerment. She also co-hosts "Mn Huna: Finding Refuge in Friendship" on KXCI with Houda, a young Syrian refugee. She calls it a "mini-program featuring stories from Houda and her family's lives and from our friendship, plus other refugee stories."

Editor's note: These responses have been edited for clarity and length. 

Meet Cynthia Dean

Dimon Sanders, left, poses with her former CASA Cynthia Dean. 

When did you first begin volunteering and how did you get involved? 

"I began my training to become a Pima County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) during the winter of 2009. When my husband and I moved to Arizona from Florida in 2008, I had been doing this kind of volunteering for three years in Broward County, Florida. Because there are so many children in foster care in every state, I knew that I wanted to continue advocating for children who had been removed from their homes and families.

"I was drawn to this volunteer work because I grew up with a loving, stable and secure family. When I married and had children, ours was a stable, secure and loving family. I became a CASA so that I could connect with and support foster children who were hoping to reunite with their families and hopefully have those qualities in their lives." 

What do you do when you volunteer? 

"As a CASA, I advocate for what is in the best interests of the foster child. I am the eyes and ears of the court. I research the child's history, monitor the living conditions of the child and the services that she is receiving. I attend Child Family Team Meetings (which include the Department of Child Safety case manager, the behavioral health facilitator, foster placement, therapist, and family members). Then I write what I have learned in court reports that go to the judge and all of the attorneys on the case. I attend court hearings and share my opinions of how the child is doing, and if his needs are being met. I visit with the child at least once a month, doing fun things with her like visiting Reid Park, the zoo, the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, the Children's Museum, restaurants, bowling alleys, the library and movies. A very important part of my role as a CASA is being a steady and constant caring adult in the life of a child who otherwise has a steady stream of new adults running in and out of his life."

Why is this cause important to you? 

"Children are removed from their families for many reasons, the most common of which are neglect, physical and emotional abuse, substance abuse by a parent, poverty and mental illness. Even with these serious issues, it is really hard on a child to be removed from all that is familiar — family, home, friends, school — and be placed in a strange foster home or group home, new school with new teachers, fellow students and no friends.

"These kids have become part of a situation that they have no control over. They suffer emotional trauma because of it. If I can play even a small part in trying to make the life of a child in foster care just a little bit easier, a little bit better, I want to do that. If can help support a foster child while her parents are trying to get their lives back in order so that they can have their child back, I want to do that." 

How would you encourage someone else to volunteer their time? 

"I would want to know if that individual enjoys children. If yes, I would share how many kids are in some type of foster care in Pima County. The numbers are huge. I would let that person know the dire circumstances that remove a child from his home, for often a year or more. I would share how it feels for a foster child to live and go to school with strangers. I would share how being a CASA can offer important support for the child emotionally, educationally, and generally as his family tries to get their lives under control."

Visit azcourts.gov/CASA for information about how to volunteer.

Meet Tia Tsosie-Begay

Tia Tsosie-Begay got involved with Girl Scouts when her oldest daughter started kindergarten. 

When did you first begin volunteering and how did you get involved?

"I began six years ago when my eldest daughter was a kindergartner. I started by researching money management resources for girls and Girl Scouts was one of the top search results. I contacted the council and began going to a 'sampler' meeting where you meet three times and then get assistance in starting your own troop. I was lucky enough to meet my co-troop leader and Girl Scout sister, Vanessa Roberts at this meeting, and we decided to start our own troop."

What do you do when you volunteer? 

"Every year it changes how I am helping girls. When we first had kindergartners and first graders, we planned and executed everything. Then as the girls got older, we became facilitators by helping our girls teach at their own meetings and plan their outings. As they continue to advance, soon we will be consultants with them driving their own program. Since we have three different levels — Daisies, Brownies and Juniors — I sometimes serve as a coach to our other troop leaders to help them build their programs. Finally, I spend time during the cookie season supporting our girls to reach their goals as part of their cookie team."

Why is this cause important to you? 

"Girls who are confident in themselves are more likely to be successful as they grow older. This can look different in many different ways, whether it's through taking risks in the workplace as a trailblazer or working as a cooperative part of a team. Perseverance and sisterhood help build strong women. Offering outdoor experiences help build character and survival skills. All of these skills are learned through Girl Scouting. Knowing that I am a part of building a girl's confidence is important to me because our girls are powerful. Having three daughters of my own and growing up with all girls, I know that it is my mission to help women be as successful as possible."

How would you encourage someone else to volunteer their time? 

"Seeing the development of a child, any child, takes time but is time well spent. As an educator, I can see the long-term effects that I have on them, and it's almost always through character education. Each of my Girl Scouts is special to me because I have seen them grow from being unsure of how to deal with rejection to moving on with the next sale knowing there will be a 'yes' coming up. I have seen them grow from being afraid of caterpillars outside on the sidewalk to hiking outdoors. I have seen them worry about how to talk to others and yet present how to build paddle boats. The confidence that every girl should have is an investment of time that we can give them. Show them something new and help them build a better tomorrow. It's a gift that will shine forever."

Go here to learn more about how to volunteer.

Meet Melanie Cooley

Melanie Cooley, right, and Houda started a radio show together on KXCI to talk about the refugee experience in Tucson. 

When did you first begin volunteering and how did you get involved?

"I took a fairly unconventional route into volunteering with refugees. In 2015, then-State Sen. Steve Farley started an initiative to welcome newly arrived refugees at the airport. I attended the first meeting and became one of the chief admins for the Arizona Welcomes Refugees Facebook group and an organizer of the airport greetings. Those connections led to dinner invitations from newly arrived Syrians, which led me to a deeper awareness of the hurdles that newly arrived refugees face. Offering friendship and connection— in whatever shape that took — seemed like the neighborly thing to do. I received the same and much more in return!

"Some of the other women in Arizona Welcomes Refugees and I started organizing the Syrian Sweets Sales, which led to helping several dozen bakers get their home bakery certificate through the state. Several of those women are selling sweets now at farmers markets, helping to support their families. This Sunday, April 28, our newly-formed non-profit Elfa Refugee & Youth Empowerment is hosting a Pop-Up Syrian Souq and Bazaar, where Tucsonans can meet some of their refugee neighbors and buy sweets and food and crafts from them."

What do you do when you volunteer? 

"With Arizona Welcomes Refugees and Elfa, I primarily do social media and communications work at this point. Necessary infrastructure and organizing kinds of stuff. But the most personally rewarding has been the close relationships I've developed with several Syrian families, including Houda's of course! I came to those relationships informally, but many of the refugee resettlement agencies in town have volunteer programs where people can become mentors for a refugee family, which is similar to what I've done. The short answer to what I do is 'whatever's needed.'

"That has meant lots of English language practice, arguing with cell phone companies, teaching families how to file their taxes online, teaching women how to drive, helping bakers get set up with a farmers market slot, accompanying friends to doctor's appointments, offering guidance through the college application and enrollment process. And eating lots of delicious food while heaping compliments on my hosts. And playing with kids. And laughing. And being a shoulder to cry on. And going to Tohono Chul Bloom Night and Tucson Meet Yourself. And getting painted with henna. And dancing. For a year or so I was holding regular dances for Syrian and American women at Rhythm Industry Performance Factory. It was a great opportunity for women and teens to cut loose and blow off steam!"

Why is this cause important to you?

"As individuals, it's very difficult to change the xenophobia and fear-mongering that takes place at a national level. But we can take care of those around us. We can reach out to those we are told to fear and hate. We can create a different story through how we live our lives. And that story we create will have ripples — across oceans through the stories our friends tell their families still overseas, across time through the children we connect with, the generations we help to become new Americans. It's up to each of us to write the story of the world. And I choose a story of love and connection and understanding."

How would you encourage someone else to volunteer their time? 

"So many of the messages we get from the world around us are that we don't matter. That as individuals we can't do much, we aren't important. But the truth is that we do matter. You matter. Your choices matter. You can choose to make the world a bit better than it was when you arrived. And it feels good too! I began by reaching out to help others, but the truth is that I've received at least as much as I've given. More. Our lives are richer when we reach out."

To learn more about how to help refugees in Tucson, check Arizona Welcomes Refugees and Elfa Refugee and Youth Empowerment on Facebook and listen to "Mn Huna: Finding Refuge in Friendship" on KXCI's website. Or learn attend a city-wide Refugee 101 presentation. Learn more here

Got a girl with a big heart? Here's where she can volunteer.

Bring the kids to U-Pick at Tucson Village Farm, 4210 N. Campbell Ave., every Tuesday evening, where the family can help on the farm. Go here for more info. 

Kids under the age of 16 can volunteer when accompanied by an adult with the Ben's Bells Project. Kids can help make the clay coins that represent intentional kindness. Volunteers can drop in at the Main Gate studio, 816 E. University Blvd., Tuesday through Friday. Go here for more info. 

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona is a full-service animal welfare organization that takes in homeless pets and finds them new homes. It is also known for its spay and neuter program to prevent more homeless pets from being born. Families with children ages 15 and older can volunteer together at the shelter. Go here for more info. 


Volunteer with Girl Scouts Today!

As a volunteer, you’ll introduce girls to new experiences and help them unleash their inner G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader) to take the lead and change the world.

You’ll be their cheerleader, guide, and mentor, helping them develop crucial skills and confidence to launch them into a lifetime of leadership. Imagine the excitement, the memories made, and the impact—this is what you’ll share as a Girl Scout volunteer.

Find troops and volunteer opportunities near you here.