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Volunteer gives others No. 1 priority

Claudia Robinson
ROCK ISLAND -- Quad-Citians tend to react quickly when people need help, according to Claudia Robinson, well known for her ability to organize volunteers for charitable work.

``What's best about the Quad-Cities?'' she asked. ``That's easy. It's the people. This community cares and takes care of one another.

``When the river is rising and floods are endangering people's property, you'll see many volunteers out there sandbagging and helping out. If someone is ill, people here respond, providing everything from food to transportation.

``And it's been so important to our community that our children learn and have the tools to do so, people have readily contributed to the First Day Fund,'' she said.

Ms. Robinson created the First Day Fund five years ago to provide school supplies to needy children. The project received national attention last year when it was featured in a September issue of Family Circle magazine.

``We deserved that attention,'' Ms. Robinson said -- not the kind of attention a Money magazine article gave, listing the Quad-Cities last in a list of 300 best places to live.

``We live here, and we can better feel the heart and the pulse of the community,'' she said.

Last year, the community contributed enough school supplies to help more than 4,500 students in the Quad-Cities. That was more than double the number of students it helped the first year.

``I never envisioned it would grow to this extent,'' Ms. Robinson said. ``We started quite small, with a volunteer work force consisting mainly of a few Department of Public Aid workers, but it has grown over the years, and we've been able to refine it to make it more efficient.''

Ms. Robinson has been able to draw support from myriad organizations, including law-enforcement agencies, the Illinois and Iowa National Guard, East Moline Correction Center inmates, local athletic teams, school officials, and teens from the 90-day boot-camp Summit program.

The U.S. Postal Service also joined last year, when letter carriers representing more than a dozen local post offices collected more than 30,000 school-supply items from people on their routes.

Ms. Robinson downplays her own role because of the mass involvment of volunteers and supporting organizations. ``I simply play a part,'' she said. ``It's really the work of the whole community.''

Individual attention given to her tends to be embarrassing, she said.

However, she has received many accolades for her work. She received a Denny Jacobs public-service award from the city of East Moline in 1996 and was named last year as honorary citizen of the year in Rock Island for organizing the city's Summerfest for three years.

The idea of giving children tools they need to do well in school made such logical sense to people, the First Day Fund became an easy sell, she said. ``Our children cannot succeed or achieve anything without an education.''

Projects that bring people together are the ones Ms. Robinson finds most interesting and intriguing.

Her new role as director of a Davenport chapter of Gilda's Club, a national agency designed to support cancer victims and their families, also fits the bill for her and verifies how readily Quad-Citians help each other.

``Every cancer survivor I've called wants to share something,'' Ms. Robinson said. ``I have such a list of volunteers who will do everything from planting flowers and wallpapering walls to simply talking to people, it's unbelievable.''

Ms. Robinson also serves on the East Moline School Board and the city's Citizen Advisory Committee.

``I honestly feel I'm the luckiest person in the Quad-Cities,'' she said, ``because, both personally and professionally, I get to do things that make a difference in my life and in the life of everyone in the Quad-Cities.''

-- By Leon Lagerstam (January 22, 1998)

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