Nothing stops Betty Labastida – not even a knee replacement.
“I’m bionic now,” said Labastida, 72, with a laugh when speaking about her November surgery. “I’m still recovering, but I get around.”
The Napa resident said she’s grateful for the support of her friends who brought her meals and ran errands for her while she was homebound immediately after the surgery, but her friends were happy to pitch in.
“Her energy puts me to shame, and we’re the same age,” said friend Karen Garcia. “She’s a role model. She’s an amazing person, and I am honored to call her my friend.”
Garcia met Labastida through Napa Valley CanDo. Garcia is on the board of directors and Labastida is one of the organization’s go-to volunteers.
In addition to being involved with Napa Valley CanDo’s Napa Food Project and Waterways Keepers, Labastida is serving as lead gardener for the new Napa Valley CanDo CanGrow garden that is being prepped at Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Napa Valley CanDo CanGrow’s program is run by a group of volunteers who grow fruits and vegetables to be donated to the Community Action of Napa Valley Food Bank. The group has tended to a plot at the Napa Community Garden since 2014, but since the garden is closing at the end of the year, Napa Valley CanDo had to find a new home for its project. Covenant Presbyterian Church had spare land it wanted to transform into a garden and offered the space to Napa Valley CanDo and Latinos Unidos.
Under Labastida’s guidance – she’s been a member of the Napa County Master Gardeners since 2000 – Napa Valley CanDo volunteers have been prepping the soil for spring planting. Because of her surgery, Labastida had to take a break from the project, but she’s remained in constant contact with Garcia during the process.
“We’ve been consulting with Betty the whole way,” Garcia said. “She’s very knowledgeable and when she dedicates herself to a project, she devotes all her energy to a project. She is a ball of fire. She’s a lot of fun to work with.”
Labastida’s love of gardening stems from her passion for protecting the environment. As a volunteer with Napa Valley CanDo’s Waterways Keepers, she serves as a site captain for river cleanups.
“I sort the trash the volunteers bring back,” Labastida said. “I want to make sure the trash is disposed of properly – recycled, composted and junked – but I like to spread it out and divide it so that volunteers can really see what makes it into our waterways.”
Labastida said the city of Napa plastic bag ordinance has greatly reduced the number of plastic bags collected during cleanups, but there are still unrecyclable plastics that are making their way to the Napa River.
Plastic drinking straws are a particular annoyance for Labastida. “Plastic straws are simply unnecessary. Any time you go out to eat, even if you dine in, you get a plastic straw with your beverage. They wash the glasses. If you think it is OK to use the forks and knives, you can trust putting your lips to the glass.”
Labastida said the better alternative would be paper straws. She knows plastic straws aren’t going away any time soon, but she does what she can to educate others – leading by example.
“I always try to pick up trash when I see it, but on days like Earth Day or Coastal Cleanup, I think we are creating a lot of awareness in addition to picking up trash from the river,” Labastida said. “I hope that people see what we are doing and what we are picking up so that maybe they won’t litter in the future. Maybe it will inspire them to pick up trash when they see it or maybe they’ll join us at the next clean up.”
Labastida says volunteering keeps her active. In addition to her work with Napa Valley CanDo and Napa County Master Gardeners, she is also a member of Napa Valley Democrats where she volunteers to help people register to vote and walks precincts to educate voters about candidates during election season. She also helps out at the office of Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, stuffing envelopes and prepping mailers throughout the year.
A native of Mexico and a fluent Spanish speaker, Labastida also volunteers her time with International Institute of the Bay Area, which hosts citizenship workshops in Napa County once a month. Labastida serves as a translator to help applicants navigate their way through the 20-page application process.
She said she watched her mother struggle to learn English when her family came to California from Mexico. “My mom had a lot of help (getting through the process),” Labastida said, “so this is my way of paying it forward for another family.”
And as if her plate isn’t full enough, Labastida is also an appointed member of the Napa County Commission on Aging, and she serves on the board of directors at OLE Health, where she concluded her 46-year nursing career in 2014.
“I do a lot of things,” Labastida said modestly. “But I think you should do things that make you feel good. As a nurse practitioner I was able to help people all over the world, and now that I’m retired, I fill my time doing things that I think help the community.”
Labastida said she’s always enjoyed helping people. She wasn’t able to volunteer as much when she was working full time and raising a family, but she said if you want to give back, you have to seize the little opportunities that come along.
“It’s not like you’re getting points (for your good deeds),” Labastida said. “I like to give back in ways that bring me joy. As a volunteer, you don’t always hear ‘thank you’, but you feel it. You know you did something good. It may have been something small, but it matters.”
In the spring, Labastida will be helping train the next class of Napa County Master Gardeners, a group of volunteers that offers research-based information on home gardening and sustainable landscaping from the University of California Cooperative Extension to the public via workshops and community events.
Fellow Master Gardener Penny Pawl said Labastida is a “volunteer extraordinaire.”
“She’s the biggest volunteer I know,” Pawl said. “She’s so outgoing, and she has an inviting smile. Her energy is contagious. When you are around Betty, you can’t help but want to get involved.”