Volunteer who helped keep the Seymour Center open is honored

Picture of volunteer Dale Bieser at the Seymour Center.
Dale Bieser has been a volunteer at the Seymour Center for 12 years. On average, she puts in more than 100 hours a month. The average volunteer provides 104 hours per year.

Many UC Santa Cruz programs, centers and institutes look to the generosity of volunteers to help advance their mission and engage community members across the university and greater Santa Cruz area. The Seymour Marine Discovery Center is one of those places. 

“This program was founded on volunteerism and continues to be an important part,” Lauren Donnelly-Crocker, director of revenue operations, said. “The number of volunteer hours we usually have each year equals or is a little bit bigger than the amount of staff hours.” 

The Seymour Center has close to 150 active volunteers and aims to get back to its pre-COVID number of 200. The volunteers, many of them students, work in every department as visitor experience volunteers, school programs instructors and aquarists. 

In May, Dale Bieser, one of the center’s long-time volunteers, was recognized with the Be the Difference Award - Individual Honoree by the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County. To the staff of the Seymour Center, Dale Bieser is much more than a volunteer. Over the past 12 years, she has become a vital member of their team. 

“Throughout the closure, she kept people thinking of us, supporting us and ultimately kept us from closing permanently,” said Executive Director Jonathan Hicken. 

During the pandemic, the center was closed for 19 months and the staff reduced by half. Bieser, who was board president at the time, stepped up to lead the volunteers. She figured out how to open the store outside so they could generate revenue, and then worked with the staff and other volunteers to put together the center’s first outdoor offerings through the new Seymour Center Outdoors program. 

“We had about 20 to 30 dedicated volunteers that would come every Saturday,” Bieser said. “We’d haul tables out, haul exhibits out, stand out there in the cold and in the wind and talk to whoever walked by. We would get on average 200 visitors every Saturday.”

For more than 50 years, the Volunteer Center has been the county’s hub for volunteering. They partner with government agencies, non-profits, and social service groups, including UC Santa Cruz, to recruit volunteers to help with major disaster relief and place program volunteers across the county.  

“Volunteers are the heart of Santa Cruz County,” said Leslie Lee, Director of Community Engagement. “It is volunteers who transform our community and make it the great place that it is.” 

On average, Bieser puts in more than 100 hours at the Seymour Center each month. Compare that to the average volunteer that provides 104 hours of service per year. She has volunteered 648 hours in the past six months and nearly 6,000 hours during her 12 years. She also currently volunteers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and used to spend every Monday at The Marine Mammal Center, in Moss Landing.

“Her contributions have impacted close to a million people since she started volunteering here, either directly or indirectly,” said Hicken. “Including, I would estimate, about 75,000 students.” 

Bieser has worked in every area of the center, including as a docent, exhibit guide, school instructor for visiting school classroom groups, president of the board, and, most recently, on the aquarium team helping care for the live animals. 

The thing she likes the most is sharing her love of the ocean and science, especially with children. “Climate change is real and the ocean drives the whole thing,” said Bieser. “Using an iPhone is intuitive to kids. Wouldn’t it be something if taking care of the ocean was just as intuitive?”

Each year, the Be the Difference Award recognizes the top volunteers - businesses, groups and individuals - who transform the Santa Cruz community through volunteerism. This year, five awardees were selected from 46 nominations. Along with Bieser, the honorees include: Isaiah Williams, Hospice of Santa Cruz County Volunteer, Individual Honoree; Hopes Closet, Nonprofit Honoree; Boulder Creek Fire Protection District, Group Honoree; 1440 Multiversity, Business Honoree. 

UC Santa Cruz’s Community Relations office has long partnered with the Volunteer Center on the annual awards reviewing nominations and applications along with other community leaders to identify individuals who exemplify the spirit of volunteerism. 

“This year for the first time, we sponsored the Volunteer Center for April, which is Volunteer Month,” Associate Director of Community Relations Audries Blake explained. “That allowed us an opportunity to really highlight our appreciation for all of the volunteers that stepped up through the floods.”

Blake is working to grow UCSC’s presence through events such as the annual Downtown Day and the beach cleanup event held earlier this year. Events like these “model the importance of what we do and who we are as a community.” Blake and her co-workers also look to identify additional ways UCSC can support the greater Santa Cruz area, including businesses and organizations, many of which were started by alumni. 

If you are interested in volunteering, the Volunteer Center has a database of 150 active opportunities. You can also meet with Volunteer Match Services to find something that fits your interests.

Bieser wants to remind UCSC students that they can get into the Seymour Marine Discovery Center by showing their Cruz ID, and that there are also internships and paid positions available to UCSC students. 

Watch the video of Dale that was shown at the awards.