In a hushed room at the women’s shelter, Virginia DePaola recalls listening intently to “Jessica,” who escaped a human trafficking ring, got help, and put her life back together again.
“All of these women have inspiring stories like that, stories that tug at the heartstrings,” Virginia says of the clients at Grandma’s House of Hope in Santa Ana, California, one of the many nonprofits where she volunteers. (That's Virginia on the left in the photo above, with some of the clients.) “Some have been abused, homeless, out on the streets. Now they are so grateful to be where they are secure, where somebody actually cares about them. It’s awesome to hear their stories.”
For nearly three decades, Virginia — a financial analyst for Wells Fargo Dealer Services in Irvine, California — has followed her heart to volunteer for dozens of nonprofits. In any given week, she may spend time organizing a fundraiser, packing food for the homeless, planning a Disneyland trip for children, visiting kids in a cancer hospital, or working at Grandma’s House.
“Whether on nights or weekends, the volunteer part of my life never really stops,” she says. “It’s fun and relaxing, and it’s my way of giving back to the community.”
Going above and beyond
Through her wide-ranging charity work, Virginia reflects Wells Fargo’s commitment to volunteer service, says Barbara Powers, chief development officer for OneOC, Orange County’s central nonprofit coordinating organization.
“Virginia’s an icon, a super-natural force inspiring her team to become engaged in the community,” she says. “Wherever there’s a need and whenever there’s a big project, she’s the one who rallies everyone at Wells Fargo in Orange County to volunteer. It is her passion for what she does that really stands out.”
“She makes us all think outside of our busy lives and has encouraged us to serve.”
In addition to her hands-on volunteering, Virginia chairs Dealer Services’ annual corporate giving campaign, coordinates its year-round giving, and leads its Orange County volunteer chapter. A two-time Dealer Services Volunteer of the Year, she has received a total of six company awards; five from OneOC; and four others, including a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for Volunteerism in 2014.
Dawn Martin Harp, head of Dealer Services, says Virginia “has led us to get involved with countless organizations over the years. She makes us all think outside of our busy lives and has encouraged us to serve others with our time and compassion.”
Dawn recalls Virginia’s leadership of the company’s volunteer work at the Special Olympics Summer Games in June. Virginia coordinated the effort down to every last detail for all of Wells Fargo’s business lines in the greater Los Angeles area, Dawn says, though her father had suffered a stroke only days before the event, preventing her from attending it.
“She made sure our teams had everything they needed to pull off the event without her,” Dawn says. “Taking time during her family’s crisis is another example of going above and beyond — and what makes Virginia special.”
Virginia credits her parents with instilling in her the value of helping others. From an early age, she remembers helping them organize church groups, give food to the poor, and help children who needed it. “It was a way of life,” she says. “It became part of who I am.”
Championing a special place
Virginia has volunteered for nearly 80 nonprofits through the years, but Grandma’s House has a special place in her heart. An original corporate sponsor, Wells Fargo has donated nearly $140,000 to Grandma’s House since its inception in 2008.
A “powerhouse” of support, Virginia has championed its services for women and children in crisis, helping raise thousands of dollars since 2012, says Je’net Kreitner, founder and executive director of Grandma’s House.
Last year, after thieves robbed the nonprofit of thousands of pounds of food destined for underprivileged children, Virginia helped mobilize the community to raise $30,000 in 24 hours.
Je’net says, “She cares so deeply about the people we serve. When she raises money for our kids program, she gets in there and packs the food. When she visits our women’s support groups, Virginia doesn’t stand by looking on; she’s right there in the middle of the conversation. She cares about their stories and what we’re doing to help.”
For Annabelle Hartshorn, Grandma’s House became a refuge and release from domestic abuse and drug addiction, she says. Now in full recovery, she is a college student with a 4.0 GPA and a member of the Grandma’s House board.
“I got so much support and love there,” says Annabelle, 36. “My life is fulfilling now. I reach out to other women and show them there is hope for another life. I know that after all the heartache I’ve been through I can use it for good to help others.”
Bill Katafias, Dealer Services’ national production manager, has volunteered for Grandma’s House and other nonprofits with Virginia. “Her attitude becomes infectious,” he says. “It’s in her DNA to help others, and she weaves volunteerism into the fabric of our culture. When I think of all she’s done and how long she’s done it, it is awe inspiring.”
Virginia continues to be a leading advocate for Grandma’s House, though she stepped down from its board earlier this year to focus on some new ventures, such as the Special Olympics sponsorship. “We’d do a disservice to the community if we didn’t share her,” Je’net concludes.