Tournament Celebrates National Volunteer Month

By Catalina Combs – April 29, 2021

What has your experience been like volunteering for the Tournament of Roses?

It will be my 24th year as a member of the Tournament of Roses. I first joined because my husband was a volunteer with the Pasadena Fire Department Emergency Services Reserve program, which meant he “worked” at all the Rose Bowl events. Since he was busy on January 1, I figured I could do this parade thing, and we would both have something to do on New Year’s Day. After many years, the Tournament of Roses has become a way of life for me. I have made lots of friends, and I missed all the people this past year. They are special friendships. I call them my tournament buddies.

People have said, oh, you put a parade on, and most people think it is my job because I work for the city. I jokingly call it my non-paying part-time job! I am very blessed to have started when I did and thankful I have experienced as much as I have. It has been very fulfilling. It’s a great event, and it brings notoriety and celebration to Pasadena. It’s a community thing, and it’s what unites. It’s what makes Pasadena so unique and so special.

What is your favorite “I remember when…” moment with the Tournament?

There has been a lot of good times when I think back and say, that was fun. I remember my first time working Decorating (Dec) Places. I was stationed by a float where they were building a candy cane, probably four inches in diameter. They used half a cranberry for the red. They were cutting and putting them on by hand. To see the guests’ faces, like, “they put them on one by one?”, and you’re like, “yeah!” It was a big hit. People do not realize what it takes to build a float. They only see these beautiful things on TV. I prefer Dec Places because although you can’t see the whole finished float, you see it happening. People gain a much greater appreciation once they realize the pain and suffering that needs to go into it. For example, the kids upside down trying to get daisies glued to the bottom opens people’s eyes, not just tournament members. To see the guests interact and appreciate was pretty fun. To me, that is the essence of Dec Places.

When I was on Parade Operations, I was barn chief of the self-builds. I gained a greater appreciation for these people who are designing their float, raising their own money and getting all their volunteers. That is a lot of work. So since then, all the self-builds have had a special place in my heart.

What are some of the cultural, social and community experiences you have had volunteering?

There are so many organizations doing great things in our community, and it is important to find one that shares your passions. I have been involved in a variety of volunteer opportunities and so glad I was able to have these experiences. For many years I was involved in my kids’ school,

church, extracurricular activities (PTA, Booster Club, football, softball, baseball, soccer, cheer) and other fund-raising endeavors. I also served as a Girl Scout leader for several years. I currently sit on the board of the Biola University Alumni Leadership Council. I served as President of the Burbank Chapter of the National Charity League, a national mother-daughter organization that provided me an opportunity to serve alongside my daughter and serve other organizations. We experienced hands-on volunteerism, collecting food, working with special needs kids, funding raising for local philanthropies, and meeting some great people along the way. For many years I’ve been on the board of Burbank Housing Corporation – a community housing development organization that provides low-income housing to the area. There is a critical need for affordable housing, and I am so proud to be a part of this organization.

I have pictures of my daughter, who was probably two then, holding one end of the measuring tape while I held the other end. Now, my daughter is 21 and my son is 25, but growing up, they were with me while I did Tournament things. Back then, it was just a way of life. My daughter went to PCC in high school, so she got a chance to serve as a college intern for two years. They had her at Dec Places. She got there at seven in the morning and stayed till five or six at night. I remember one of the barn chiefs saying, “she’s here all day.” She didn’t know the difference. She thought everybody was supposed to be there because when I was the chair of Dec places, she was there with me almost every day. I put a jacket on her, and she knew everything and went everywhere because she was so used to it. My son would go to the game. My husband would bring them if I was on the street. Wherever I was on the 31st, he’d find a way to come to me. In my first couple years on Formation, he found a place to park and they were all there with me to celebrate New Year’s together. My daughter was with me when I did Post Parade the whole time. She was there both days. I’ve involved them where I can. Then of course she goes off to her sorority, and she’s in charge of the largest fundraiser on campus at UC San Diego. It was a sold-out event. She had to do all the logistics. I was so proud of her because she managed the people and the event. I think it is because of me and everything we did through the National Charity League that she was able to develop this skill set at 20 years old.

As my kids move into the world of adulthood, I hope I was able to impart the importance of volunteerism and giving back to their community and that they will continue to find the time to give back. We have been blessed, and it is important to give back. If it is not with your money, it is with time. I say find something you are passionate about and give back.

What topic(s) are you truly passionate about and want to see more of a push for?

I want to see young people succeed. Some may not have the direction and guidance growing up. Whether it is college or vocational training, I want to help guide young people as they transition from high school.

When I retire from my day job, one of the things I want to do is become a volunteer for an organization called CASA. It stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. You are a volunteer, and you work with foster youth. It is your job as an advocate to make sure they get the proper medical treatment if they need it. Ensure that they are in the right school, taking the right classes, getting whatever. You are appointed by the court, so you are working on behalf of the court system as a volunteer. I want those kids, those older kids, that are in high school, maybe starting high school, so that they are exposed to opportunities that they might not otherwise have. My

parents did not go to college, and when I applied for college, I had no idea what I was doing. I know there are still families out there like that.

I am a scholarship reader for a family foundation. All these kids are low-income, all minority, trying to get through college. The passion that I read in there … like one kid’s parents had to move because they could not afford to live in San Fernando Valley. They moved up to Palm Desert. This kid would get on a train at five in the morning, spend two hours on the train to get to school, and then at lunch would sell boxes of candy to pay for the train ride back. It was important to this student to finish at the school they were at. If only we all had that dedication. Those are the ones you want to award the scholarships to because they have that drive to make it happen.

This opened up my eyes to students today because the educational system is very different from when I went. I went to a public college, I was working full time, but schools are so expensive today. I want to see a kid succeed. When I see a low income, the majority of them are Latino, so I’m going to say I want to see Latino kids get into a great college and succeed. Even if they do not have the grades, I can help them start at community college. At PUSD, I’ve signed up for the Mentor Program. It is a passion of mine to see these kids succeed, so I am willing to offer advice to whoever is willing to listen. Every path is different. But you need to know what your options are.

What are some things to consider when volunteering?

When I volunteer, It has always been my goal to have a positive impact on the community in which I serve. I also think you should have fun when you volunteer. It is not a job. You are giving up your time, so you need to enjoy yourself. I like to meet new people. When you volunteer, you have to remember time is probably one of the biggest hindrances. With job and family commitments, not everyone has the extra time to commit to an organization. I try to come with a great attitude and willingness to be flexible.

When I first started with the Tournament, I told my husband that I would do this until it was no longer fun. I’m still at it and loving every minute of it. The best volunteers are those who are passionate about the mission. It can be difficult to volunteer for an organization if that passion doesn’t exist. Try something new. Volunteering is a great place to meet new friends. If you are on the shy side, ask a friend to volunteer with you. Have fun in whatever you do.