Patty Vallance started volunteering when she had young children and lived in the small town of Placerville, Calif., from 1986 to 2000. “I have an obligation to my children, my family, to my community,” she told the AJP. “I wanted to raise my kids Jewish and connect them to their lineage, their grandparents.” Vallance drove 196 miles daily to take Zev, now 23, and Noa, 21, to a Jewish day school in Sacramento.
Helping others stemmed from wanting to do mitzvot. “It was never a conscious thought. It just evolved,” says Vallance, adding that there is a Jewish cemetery dating from the Gold Rush in Placerville. “I would walk there with the kids every day. We climbed over the fence and started putting rocks on the graves and said a prayer. We just did it.”
The family moved to Tucson in 2000. “I took on the mission statement of the Jewish Federation” of Southern Arizona, which speaks of being guided by the Jewish values of tzedakah (righteous giving), chesed (loving kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing of the world), says Vallance. “It’s all about doing good deeds. We’re not here to change history. We’re here to listen. It’s also about what people in need are not saying, but if people have the courage to ask for help, how can you say no?”
Vallance’s projects have included working with the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation and helping to resettle more than 187 families in Tucson following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. She was also instrumental in starting the 1st Rate 2nd Hand Thrift Store, which benefits Jewish organizations. “Not everything I do as a volunteer is in the public eye,” she says. “Some of it is really private.”
Parents have come to her for suggestions for B’nai Mitzvah projects, which made Vallance’s daughter “roll her eyes and say, ‘Mom, living with you is a mitzvah project.’ Every year I would get my children a responsibility gift,” says Vallance. “In middle school, when kids can be pretty unpleasant, they learned how to scuba dive. They were both certified at around age 12. I wanted them to know they’re not at the top of the food chain. When they got their first allowance it was to learn that money is a tool, like a hammer and nail.” And at 16, they got their first jobs, “giving them the opportunity to be responsible for themselves. They also learned from experience that they might be yelled at by someone other than their parents,” she says.
“As I’ve told my kids, when you do acts of loving kindness there’s no judgment, or what I call ‘evaluation.’ There’s dignity and respect [connected] to those acts no matter who they’re for,” says Vallance, adding, “and it’s really lovely if you do them anonymously.”
Currently, as president of the board of the B’nai B’rith Strauss Manor on Pantano, “some days I just make soup and that’s enough,” she says. “Everybody has the ability to give. It’s not always about writing a check or volunteering for an organization. It’s about what you can do today. It’s not about what you did yesterday or what you can do tomorrow. It’s all about the journey.
“Like making soup,” says Vallance, “it’s that quiet philanthropy that everybody does that keeps you right in the world. You look around and see what one thing you can do because you heard another person. It all goes back to ‘If not now, when? If not me, who?’”