SANDBRIDGE – If you attend almost any event here and in surrounding communities, you’ll probably see Cindy Graf standing somewhere in the crowd with her camera poised for the shot. That’s just what she does.
It is this presence that earned her the Council of Civic Organizations’ 2014-15 Volunteer of the Year award.
No one was more surprised than the honoree herself.
“Volunteering has made a difference in my life,” Graf, 57, said. “When you realize that’s true, you want to continue to do it.”
Graf is a constant, busy presence in the community. She has served as editor of the Sandbridge Beach Civic League Newsletter for the last six years. She helps with lifeguard camps in the summer and the Sandbridge Christmas Tour of Homes in the winter. Her trademark is attending functions, taking pictures and recording local history.
Jane Stilley, co-editor of the civic league’s newsletter, said working with Graf is a dream because she is an accomplished artist and a talented photographer.
“The more I get to know her, the more I like her,” Stilley said. “She is the ultimate volunteer.”
Graf is the only daughter in a family of four brothers. Her mom, Pat Yakscoe, told her she could do anything she wanted.
So she did.
“I went into volunteering like Pollyanna,” remembered Graf. “I thought there was nothing I couldn’t do. That’s a good way to do anything because, if you realize all the road blocks, you’ll never do anything.”
Graf wanted to honor her mother and best friend who died in 1999 of cancer by raising money to find a cure. In 2005, A Dolphin’s Promise, an organization dedicated to bringing hope and taking away the pain of the disease, was born.
Graf chose the dolphin because she remembered her mother visiting from Pennsylvania, paddling out into the ocean with her and watching dolphins play around them.
Graf had experience working on the mermaid project in Norfolk and the Winged Horse Project in North Carolina.
She decided to move forward with the dolphins. She knew the other programs had high administration costs and wanted to avoid that. She wanted all the money raised from the sale of dolphins to go for cancer research. Therefore, the organization is run by volunteers.
The only paid persons are the artists.
Graf managed to get half the costs of making the dolphin mold donated from the manufacturer. Jean Siebert from Siebert Realty donated start up costs.
Finally she went to the late Meyera Oberndorf, then the city’s mayor and a cancer survivor. Oberndorf thought the idea was perfect.
Everywhere Graf went, people had similar stories about cancer and jumped at the chance to give back.
Graf became the person who could tell them how to do it. The organization has raised nearly a half million dollars for cancer research.
“Early on I learned whatever I gave, I got back tenfold,” Graf said, smiling. “Rewards come in unexpected ways.”
Graf said people who want to volunteer should look at their own lives to see what need they could fill.
“Couldn’t you share your talents and make someone else’s world a little better?” she asked. “Don’t keep your talents to yourself.”
Graf is getting ready to move to Guam for two years with her Navy husband, and she sees all kinds of opportunities to volunteer in her new home.
She’ll leave her footprint wherever she goes.
Joan Davis, president of the Sandbridge Beach Civic League, has worked with Graf as a member of the league board of directors and as a rescue squad booster.
She said Graf’s civic involvement has make Sandbridge a better community.
“Cindy Graf is an outstanding asset to the Sandbridge community,” Davis said.
As for Graf, she never sees a day when she is not volunteering.
“I’ll be in an old folks home running the crafts room,” she said.