Handing out children’s books a welcome change of pace for CEO
For 10 days each December, Marilee Roloff stands behind the neat stacks of children’s books at the Christmas Bureau, helping to give them away.
Like others who stand there, Roloff asks parents about their kids’ ages and interests. Mothers and fathers linger over the tables, studying the selection to choose the best book for their child.
“You can’t help but adore someone like that, who’s striving so hard to be a perfect parent,” Roloff said.
The hands-on work is different from her normal duties, which have to do with leading the Volunteers of America’s Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho office, an organization with about 85 employees, 900 volunteers and 14 social-service programs.
“The books are her release from the daily signing of the checks, or whatever CEOs do,” said Tana Carosella, who helps run the book giveaway.
Roloff, 60, grew up in Creston, Wash., and arrived in Spokane in 1984. She was the first and only, at the time, employee of Crosswalk Teen Shelter.
Now she’s the president and CEO of the VOA. Many of its programs offer shelter or housing programs for groups including teenage mothers and their babies, veterans who are leaving incarceration or are chronically homeless, homeless people with disabilities, and teenagers “aging out” of the foster care program.
“I love what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. But the Christmas Bureau lets her help people directly, she said.
The VOA organizes the bureau each year with Catholic Charities of Spokane and The Spokesman-Review. Among Roloff’s year-round duties is one she gave herself: shopping for books, keeping an eye on store shelves for quality titles at bargain prices. She said she knows the location of every Dollar Tree in town. Her specialty is baby books.
When you work in social services, “you spend your entire year immersed in the challenges and suffering of other people,” said Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities. “For most normal human beings, that’ll wear you down.”
By the time December rolls around, many of those normal human beings are worn out, he said. Not Roloff. “Here she comes, bouncing into the Christmas Bureau on the first day,” McCann said.
Paid for with donations to the Christmas Fund, the bureau gives toys, grocery vouchers and books to people in need for Christmas. Those are small but tangible things that bear the weight of the holiday season, and make the difference between having something and having nothing.
“Not that one book or one toy is going to change anybody’s life,” Roloff said. “But hey, neither does one counseling session. It changes Christmas morning.”
The Christmas Fund now stands at $255,348.59. To read a list of the latest donors to the fund, go to Page B2.