SARC

Hazel Hopkins, 63, (center) along with other volunteers from Harford County's domestic violence program rehearse for SARC's second annual Rising Above It All balloon festival set for Labor Day weekend. (Gabe Dinsmoor, Baltimore Sun / August 18, 2011)

As the application deadline loomed for vendors who want to participate in a fundraising event in Bel Air next month, Hazel U. Hopkins fretted that a favorite caterer might have forgotten to sign up.

So she drove an application to the business in Kingsville, waited for the owner to fill it out and then returned it to the offices of SARC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence, in Bel Air.

That kind of go-the-extra-mile determination made Hopkins the 2010 volunteer of the year at SARC, an acronym for safety, awareness, resources and change. The group relies heavily on its volunteers, who donated more than 6,000 hours last year assisting victims of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse.

Hopkins, 63, retired after 30 years teaching elementary school in the Finger Lakes area of New York and relocated to Abingdon five years ago with her husband, Larry. She plunged right into several volunteer opportunities in her new community.

"I am the kind of person who needs to give and bring a lightness to most situations," she said.

She joined the local chapter of the American Association of University Women and is president this year. At her church, she volunteers on the social justice and worship committees. She thought about returning to the classroom as a volunteer, until she heard SARC's director speak on efforts to help victims of violence put their lives back together. The message resonated with her.

"I have always been on the forefront in women's issues," Hopkins said. "Even though I have never known a victim of abuse or anyone who has had to live in a shelter, I still think 'there but for the grace of God go I.' I am not sure where this passion to help these women came from, but I am following it."

Still, her assistance would have to come from behind the scenes, she said.

"I knew I could not be directly involved with the clients because I would internalize all their problems," Hopkins said. "I cannot answer the hot line, but I knew there were many ways that I could help this organization."

She took SARC's training session for volunteers and set to work. For the past four years, she has kept the food pantry organized, assisted with clerical tasks and data processing, planned parties for clients and their children, and represented SARC at educational fairs. She has helped with vigils and fundraisers and has led many donors to the organization.

"Hazel brings a ray of sunshine into every room," said Stacie Beard, SARC's community outreach coordinator. "She helps us in so many ways, mostly behind the scenes."

Hopkins said her role is "to bring lightness to a group that faces a somber job every day." She played a key role in putting together last year's fundraiser — Rising Above It, a balloon festival Labor Day weekend at the Equestrian Center in Bel Air.

"I made countless calls and sent countless emails lining up vendors and entertainment," she said.

The festival drew about 2,600 people and will likely grow larger this year. Hopkins is now repeating her efforts with renewed enthusiasm and luring as many participants as possible. Beard was not surprised about Hopkins' side trip to sign up a favorite chef.

"Hazel is somebody we know we can go to in a pinch," Beard said. "She also brings new ideas to any project and infuses the process with great energy."

The weekend begins with a Balloon Glow Gala on Sept. 2 at the Maryland Golf and Country Clubs in Bel Air and moves to the Equestrian Center from noon to 7 p.m. on Sept. 3 for Family Fun Day. Nine hot air balloons will take flight about 6 p.m. Saturday, weather permitting.

Hopkins plans to wear her most comfortable shoes. She knows she will be doing a lot of running between activities making sure the events run smoothly.

"I am enjoying a wonderful retirement," she said. "Part of that is because people know that they can call on me and that I am open to new experiences."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com