Volunteer of the Year: ‘I knew there was magic happening right here’

nanci mason headshot

Volunteer Nanci Mason knows the powerful gift of education – and The Friendship Club.

A college degree opened the door to a great career for Mason, including being one of the first 200 employees at Cisco Systems.

“It gave me the impetus for a very successful life,” said Mason, who moved from Silicon Valley to Nevada County in 1995, when The Friendship Club was just starting.

A decade later, a friend and Friendship Club board member introduced Mason to the nonprofit organization. It’s been a perfect match since.

“When I experienced how dynamic Friendship Club founders and staff were, how brilliantly they articulated their message, passion, tears, deep and direct understanding,” she said. “Well, I knew there was magic happening right here in this small community.”

Mason has definitely been part of the “magic.” As a volunteer, she started as an after-school driver, carrying girls to meetings and other events. Soon, she was deeply involved, from creating art and teaching cooking classes to serving as a mentor.

“It’s a big responsibility,” said Mason, who was named Volunteer of the Year in 2019. “These young people are facing huge obstacles. We make a difference in their lives, even if we don’t always see it at the time.”

Quite often, a big difference. Friendship Club girls may be struggling with emotional and personal issues, from a death in the family to a single-parent household where money and one-on-one time can be in short supply.

“My eyes were opened for the first time to what generational poverty is, as well as other forms of poverty, like poverty of imagination, opportunity and hope,” Mason said. “Being a small part of bringing positive change – education, resources, kindness and growth for youth – which then spreads like roots throughout the family of that youth … has changed my life.”

Planting those roots can also change the lives of youth.

“I happen to have the most delightful mentee,” Mason said. “She has excelled, handled adversity and become a real leader.”

Mason stresses the success stories – and there are many, with hundreds of girls going through The Friendship Club since 2006.

The quarter-century-old organization gives “a lift, a boost … and that helps improve your self-confidence and self-esteem,” Mason said. “There are girls here with so much potential. Each girl has something amazing to offer.”

And every volunteer has something special to offer the girls and The Friendship Club.

In turn, volunteers will gain “friendship, connection and a feeling of having value and a purpose in life. And watching the girls eagerly attend, learn and be silly … just be girls without judgment, run through their gamut of emotions and form lifelong friendships is so rewarding.”

Those are the many reasons that Mason donates about 40 hours per month to The Friendship Club, including serving as Secretary of the Board of Directors for a second term.

“This is where I fit and put all of my focus.”

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