For National Volunteer Week, April 16-22, United Way of Northeast Florida asked the community to nominate outstanding volunteers to be recognized on our blog and social media. Congratulations, Michelle! Learn more about Michelle and her passion for giving back through the Literacy Alliance of Northeast Florida in the Q&A below.
Describe the person or event that inspired you to give back to the community?
The event that inspired me to give back to the community was my attendance at a Literacy Alliance award ceremony. The ceremony celebrated the various accomplishments of all the students. No achievement was valued more than another. It was an atmosphere of students, staff, volunteers, family and friends coming together to acknowledge every hope and dream represented by each client who took a chance on their future. I knew I wanted to be part of an organization that dared students to dream, achieve the dream and then dream an even bigger dream.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of volunteering?
I would say the most rewarding aspect of volunteering for me is seeing the dots connect. I try to utilize every resource at my disposal to help the student succeed. I like to see students realize they are not alone in their quest for a goal such as obtaining their GED or getting a promotion on their current job. I love to help students realize their journey to “success,” as they define it, is a combination of peaks and valleys. I like it when they want to show their appreciation for me tutoring or coaching them by offering to take me out to dinner. My reward, as I stress to them, is just seeing them give 110% to their dreams; that is thanks enough.
Describe the moment you realized your volunteer efforts were making a real difference.
The moment I realized my volunteer efforts were making a real difference was when my students trusted me with their hopes and dreams. The initial lesson plan turned into a lengthier discussion about an obstacle they were facing or an aspiration they were too unsure about to pursue. I was able to see them move from solving simple math problems to doing Algebraic equations. I witnessed them evolving from word recognition to reading comprehension. The student walking out of the program more confident, enlightened and determined is success to me.
Why is it important to you to help communities who are often overlooked?
It is important for me to help communities that are overlooked because overlooked does not make them underqualified. Overlooked means underrepresented, under-sourced and under-supported. I like showing overlooked communities the possibilities as opposed to what has always been. I like helping overlooked communities break generational patterns and to bring a new pool of qualified people to fill careers that allow the people to be self-sufficient. I am glad to volunteer with an organization, such as the Literacy Alliance, that addresses equity, access and inclusion for all by leveling the playing field through literacy.
What does it mean to you to “Amplify Good” (United Way’s tagline)?
“Amplify Good” means to utilize my time, talent and treasure wisely. I utilize my time to be flexible so the students — especially the ones who work — know they have options for instruction. I utilize my talent to study and be prepared to instruct students. I utilize my treasure, such as grant money, to recommend materials to assist students. For me, Mahatma Gandhi’s quote that states, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” is my way to “Amplify Good” by volunteering.
Interested in becoming an outstanding volunteer like Michelle? You can find a variety of community service projects all year long at United Way’s Volunteer Hub. Have any questions about volunteering with United Way and our partners? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.