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World Changers: Giva Salutes S.M.I.L.E.S. (Sharing Music and Improving Lives with Every Song)

Here at Giva we search for organizations, large and small, that are doing a great job of changing the world around them for the better; and we are pleased to salute them here.

S.M.I.L.E.S. Students

World Changers: Giva Salutes S.M.I.L.E.S.

S.M.I.L.E.S. (Sharing Music and Improving Lives with Every Song) was founded by Arianna Beyer on the premise that music can connect individuals in profound ways. Given the success of her initiative, it appears this is indeed true. S.M.I.L.E.S. arranges for musically-inclined youth from middle school to college to display their talents in assisted living centers, nursing homes, memory care facilities and hospitals. The stories that emerge from these encounters are exemplary of the various ways music can resonate with different people. Some of the performances raise the energy level of the audience by galvanizing the room with an up-beat sing-along. Other performances are sentimental, reminding the elderly of fond memories from a previous era. Each performance touches the heart and is a reminder of the power of a simple act of kindness.

Arianna’s organization is not the largest but is a reminder that an individual initiative can be successful with limited financial resources as long as one is armed with a desire to help. Successful charity is often about finding a way to apply one’s talents in the local community. S.M.I.L.E.S. volunteers remind us of the positive effects that emerge from sharing our gifts with those around us. Their efforts are sincerely appreciated.

To learn more about S.M.I.L.E.S. and how to get involved visit: http://ariannabeyer.com/#!/s-m-i-l-e-s

EVP Strategies: Inspiring Employees to Volunteer

Employee Volunteering

As part of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) culture, it is important for businesses to have a sector that deals with the volunteering requirements that they will ask of their employees. If you are a business trying to get employees to volunteer, what are the best ways to create a program where they actually want to be involved and are willing to help? The first step is to build an employee volunteer program (EVP).

An EVP is considered to be a planned effort to effectively motivate and enable employees to better help and serve their community through the leadership of their employers. Points of Light, one of the largest volunteer services that regularly rewards EVP's, believes that their 20 years of service creates a strong record for deciding what creates a strong EVP.

In their article, "Seven Practices of Effective Employee Volunteer Programs," they first highlight why EVP's are important for companies to have. They list reasons from increasing profitability to attracting new hires and improving corporate image ("Seven Practices", 2). They then move on to the importance of just having a plan. It is important for an EVP to have goals that are beneficial to society and match the goals of the employees and the corporation. Not only this, but there must be a strategy: the business has to have clear tactics and a vision to actually succeed in doing something meaningful. If the notions of the program are not clear, then employees will not really know what they are working towards, if they do not know what they are working towards, then they won't feel motivated.

Once there is a plan, there must be a way to measure how successfully the plan is being carried out. The company should know what the outputs are, the social impacts of their program and also the accomplishments that have been made. Once this has been measured, the company should share this information with the public and also their employees. The employees have to know what their efforts are creating. Knowing that their efforts are not for nothing will make them believe in the cause. One way that HP accomplished this was by having a Global Volunteer Challenge. Employees were given four hours of paid volunteer hours and were able to earn grants for their preferred nonprofit agencies for logging hours. With this method, they were able to measure how many hours were being performed, which country they were being performed in, and what type of volunteer work was being accomplished. Not only this, HP would actually talk with the nonprofits to figure out the impact of the volunteer work, and then they monetized this information to create a dollar amount of social benefit. The impact of work that is being completed is important to know, and it creates higher engagement.

The design of the EVP, different from the plan, is also quite important. Businesses should leverage employee skills with corporate assets, such as in-kind donations and real estate. The design should align with the core competencies of the company, and it should enhance the operations that occur within the company. For example, the company Timbaland gives employees 40 hours of paid volunteer time and views volunteer work as a way to give back to the community and to bond with customers, business partners, etc.

Another step to realize is the responsibility of the leaders within the company. The company leaders have to be sure to promote the EVP's mission and its goals, and then have to effectively communicate the goals and the progress of the program. Not only do they have to communicate, they have to model their strategies. If they are creating an EVP, then they have to show they are serious by actually volunteering themselves. At Toyota, associates are forwarded "thank you" notes from the CSR Executive Community leaders, or they forward a note to the CEO speaking of the good work that employees have done.

At Giva, Ron Avignone, Founder, leads by example. Mr. Avignone is a regular volunteer at a local homeless shelter in San Francisco and also volunteers as a cook at 10-day meditation retreats making meals and washing pots and pans for 50 people. He also randomly gives away candy bars to people on the street. Mr. Avignone is also very involved with the Giva scholarship program often speaks with the winners and encouraging them to continue their community service. "Service has its own reward. When I complete any service working with the less fortunate, I quickly realize while driving home that I really have no problems. What a valuable insight, and so why pay for a shrink :) My true nature and profound gratitude can be found in the basement of a homeless shelter working closely with people in need," he says.

The fifth step is to have strategic partnerships and to work with governments, partners and nonprofits. Caesars Entertainment exemplifies this ideology. All of their North American properties participate in the Clean the World Foundation. It is a foundation that collects soap and amenities that have been used, which are then sterilized and sent to the world's needy. There was not a Clean the World Foundation facility in the western United States, so the Caesars Foundation provided $400,000 towards a Las Vegas location. To aid in employees being able to so easily help the Clean the World Foundation, volunteer work is integrated into their daily responsibilities. For example, as they are going about their normal work, employees are encouraged to remember to collect used soap. In this way, they are helping out their community and the world! They say that this has led to a more engaged, loyal and happy staff.

Employee engagement is definitely an important part of any employee volunteer program, and employees have to be inspired and motivated for a program to work. An effective EVP is what generates employee support, enthusiasm, employee retention and other tell-tale signs of employee engagement. McKesson does a lot to make sure that employees skills and the core competencies of the company are being utilized when it comes to volunteer work. They have a "Dollars for Doers" program where employees are given grant money when they log their volunteer hours (the grant begins when volunteers hit 25 hours). McKesson does have a core volunteer program called Giving Comfort with which all employees are expected to help, but by allowing employees to gain grant money for their own choice of nonprofit, employees are able to volunteer with organizations that are best suited to their interests and to their reasons of why they wish to volunteer.

The last step is to celebrate successes, to share with the company and the public just how well the program is going. It is also important to continue to learn and grow, to know that a static program will never remain sustainable. Holcim, for example, celebrates successes of their program with a photo exhibition of their initiatives on National Volunteer Day.

For more on how to create an EVP that is effective, or what characteristics of an EVP make for happy and engaged employees, there are plenty of more examples in the Points of Light article referenced above.

Metrics for Non-profits: Improving Volunteer and Donor Engagement: Part 1

Metrics/graphs for Volunteerism and Non-profits

Metrics are important to any good business strategy; they help to inform decisions about how to manage projects and achieve the best outcomes. The necessity of metrics is not isolated in the private/for-profit sector alone; non-profits should also rely on metrics to develop informed, evidence-based approaches for resolving social and environmental issues. Unfortunately, many non-profit organizations lack the necessary funds and resources to obtain and utilize metrics. The good news is that tech companies have a lot to offer to non-profit management in helping to streamline procedures and enhance outcomes. Volunteer engagement is one important aspect of a non-profit that should be analyzed using data and metrics. Constituent Relationship Management software allows non-profits to gauge volunteerism and use this information to ultimately increase volunteer recruitment, engagement and retention.

In their recent donor survey, tech-research firm Software Advice found that many non-profits do not collect any data on volunteers. Of the 45% of non-profits that did not collect volunteer data, 34% attributed this to a lack of resources and tools. Cloud-hosted software tools, like those provided by Giva, can be customized to fit the needs of any strategic organization. For non-profits, these metrics will be important to understand how and how much volunteers contribute in order to develop sound strategies for growth. Reports will generate essential key performance indicators that measure things like campaign success rates, and patterns in donor and volunteer behaviors.

Cloud-based software can be adapted to serve as volunteer management software, collecting data and creating reports that can be used to inform strategies for improving the size, scope and quality of volunteer programs. For example, by collecting and analyzing volunteer data from a particular campaign, an organization can value that program's social return on investment. Reports will provide a basis for determining how successful said campaign was and if there are any volunteers or volunteer behaviors that generated the most impact. By using metrics to target effective behaviors or individual volunteers, non-profits can better understand best practices and improve the results of future endeavors.

Volunteer-metrics also help organizations to make the most use of volunteers, based upon their skills and knowledge. A simple volunteer survey can generate reports about volunteers' skill sets and areas of expertise. Using a method called skills-based volunteerism, non-profits can maximize the impact of volunteers by giving them roles related to their unique strengths and capacities. Skills-based volunteerism allows non-profits to reap rewards similar to those from consulting or contracting services but on a pro-bono basis. Furthermore, volunteers can teach non-profit workers a great deal. In their study, "Measuring the Results: the Business Case for Skills-Based Volunteerism," Common Impact found that 77% of the non-profits they helped to implement skills-based volunteerism reported learning new skills.

Volunteer metrics help non-profits to recruit, retain and utilize volunteers most effectively. Volunteer data also creates the foundation for monetizing volunteer efforts. Non-profits can get an estimate of the monetary return on investment from their volunteer engagement by multiplying the Independent Sector's estimated value for volunteer time, $22.55 per hour as of 2013, times (x) total volunteer hours. For more accurate reporting, the Independent Sector recommends looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' hourly wage rates by occupation to monetize specialized skills-based volunteer hours. All of this reporting is made easier by cloud-service Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that generates data and reports. For non-profits that often lack adequate funding, volunteerism significantly reduces overhead costs. This is especially true when metrics are used to implement skills-based volunteerism.

Corporate Volunteerism in Different Cultures

Global Corporate Social Responsibility CSR

We are all fairly familiar with the North American conception of corporate volunteerism. The area has produced many of the practices we see in operation today. Now it is rare to find a large American or Canadian firm that does not pursue some kind of volunteer initiative. Spurred on by a vast conglomeration of organizations and charities, American and Canadian firms continue to pursue ambitious corporate volunteer initiatives. But, how do these policies translate overseas? A phenomenal report, by the Global Volunteering Research Project, titled "Global companies volunteering globally" sheds some light on how the conception of corporate volunteerism differs in various markets around the world. Some brief conclusions are shared below.

Arab Nations and Africa

The idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and corporate volunteerism is fairly new to certain parts of the world. Many Arab nations are just beginning to understand how CSR can be incorporated into a business structure. A number of firms are still asking some fundamental questions such as how good intentions can be transformed into a comprehensive business strategy. In general, there is a tendency to think of "doing good" as a set of donations to charity rather than as a homemade initiative. The region also lacks the non-profit infrastructure we take for granted in North America.

Africa is currently grappling with many of the same challenges. Volunteering has traditionally been thought of as a local undertaking nowhere near the scale pursued by some multinational corporations. The region lacks the volunteer leadership organizations present in other parts of the world. As a result, corporate volunteerism has remained relatively contained.

Still promising signs are provided by a number of firms in both regions that have developed successful corporate volunteer programs. Safaricom, a leading mobile provider in Kenya, has a foundation in which employees are given the chance to volunteer through four days of paid leave. Kenya also has the National Volunteer Network Trust (NAVNET), a leadership organization that encourages "harambee", the Kenyan tradition of self-help events. In Saudi Arabia, the National Commercial Bank has coached entrepreneurs and helped with disaster relief spurred on by a CEO who cares deeply in corporate responsibility. Each year more and more firms replicate the good deeds of these peers.

In order to understand a potential future of corporate volunteerism in these regions we can look at the success of South Africa. South Africa's emerging corporate volunteerism culture has been driven largely by its growing business community and organizations like CAFSA. CAFSA arranges business-NGO (non-governmental organization) partnerships in South Africa that satisfy both party's needs. Both regions have a history of active community involvement. The challenge for corporations moving forward will be converting these programs into larger, structured initiatives.

Latin America

Latin America's history of political instability helps to explain how the current culture of corporate volunteerism formed. The region has adopted a culture of civic participation and has begun to put a personal spin on volunteerism. Rather than viewing the beneficiaries of charity as hopeless dependents, Latin Americans are increasingly looking at charity as an exchange of services among equals. Social inequality has emerged as the main target of many corporate volunteer initiatives.

Across the region, education seems to be the most popular topic addressed. Approximately 70% of volunteer programs are based on improving access to education, usually for poor children. Skills-based volunteering has been recently adopted by some firms, but is not yet a widespread practice in the region. Chile's Pro-Bono Foundation serves as one of the few examples. The foundation provides lawyers from over 30 companies to limited resource groups in need of legal counsel. Many of the most successful programs in the region address these areas of inequality. The Corporate Volunteer Councils that have begun to pop up in countries like Brazil and Columbia have made it easier to connect with these kinds of causes.

Despite the early successes of corporate volunteerism in the region, Latin American companies must still overcome a few challenges. The largest seems to be convincing shareholders to adopt it as an integral part of the business. Many firms continue to pursue initiatives that are unrelated to their brand as side endeavors. Latin America also poses some unique geographical challenges. It can often be hard to reach the rural villages that are scattered throughout the region. Regardless, the culture of civic engagement that continues to permeate amongst the youth sets up this region nicely for the future.

Asia-Pacific

Corporate volunteer programs are commonplace in much of the Asia Pacific region. In one national survey, 80% of Japanese firms reported having a volunteer program. The country has also seen the adoption of more and more skills-based volunteer programs in place of what some commentators described as superficial volunteer initiatives. Korea likewise has a vibrant culture of corporate responsibility with CSR giants like Samsung, Hyundai, and the SK group. The countries' intense business competitions have made volunteer programs increasingly vital. Australian firms are likewise becoming experts in corporate volunteering. Younger Australians have come to expect the programs having participated in a number of volunteer activities as students.

These successes have been complemented by an emerging culture of corporate volunteerism in China. Many top Chinese firms originally imported variations of volunteer programs from Western businesses. Now, a growing number of initiatives have also come from China. The country's volunteer programs still depend in part on the Chinese Communist Youth League that oversees many volunteer initiatives. These days, programs like the Shougang Corporation's tutoring of children by retirees are increasingly common in China. Volunteerism is no longer just a part of multinational corporations.

Europe

Like their East Asian and North American counterparts, European firms are developing new ways to master corporate volunteerism. According to a 2010 report from a special forum of the General Assembly of the European Volunteer Centre, corporate volunteerism has been growing dramatically. One German study found that 84% of German companies have established volunteer programs. Socially-conscious citizens throughout the European Union expect companies to offer the programs as a civic duty. They are a sign of positive community engagement.

Some parties worry that corporate volunteerism will be limited by certain cultural challenges. Some Europeans believe that volunteerism is a private matter and should not be mixed with their professional lives. Furthermore, some European NGOs have expressed reluctance in forming corporate partnerships, viewing such acts as violations of their missions. But, these issues should be easy to overcome. Socially conscious behavior, the foundation of a successful volunteer program, is already ubiquitous across the continent.

Conclusions

How are we to interpret the globalization of corporate volunteerism? The obvious conclusion is that it is an extremely positive trend. Ethical and constructive behavior adapted to local circumstances is a great development for the global community. But, the globalization of corporate volunteerism also offers companies a great opportunity to learn from one another. Understanding the successes and challenges of other volunteer programs is an important step for firms looking to develop their own CSR initiatives. Being able to learn from so many global peers will be a luxury for future employers.

The reader is highly encouraged to read the aforementioned study on which this blog post is based. The insights are marvelously presented with myriad of anecdotes from which to learn. Both firms and individuals can learn a lot from its conclusions.

Giva Student Scholarship Winner Essay: Shila Vardell - How To Jump Start a Volunteer Effort

Giva Student Scholarship and Worldwide Ambassador Award winner, Shila Vardell, shares her experience on how to jump start a volunteer effort.

How to Jump Start a Volunteer Effort
By Shila Vardell

Today's world is very hectic. People are constantly on the go with work, school, children and errands. It often seems like you have no free time to spend volunteering. Volunteering isn't always about the amount of hours you put in. It is more about the difference you make and the lives you change. When you make the decision to volunteer, you need to put your mind to it. It is easy to let time pass and never get around to it, but it is just as easy to get out and help others.

The first step to volunteering is to decide what you want to do. There are so many opportunities: feeding the homeless, washing animals at an animal shelter, delivering papers to patients in the hospital, helping with activities at a senior citizen home, helping out at your local library, etc. There are volunteer opportunities for everyone. Once you have chosen the volunteer opportunity you would like to take advantage of, it is up to you to set time aside out of your busy schedule. No one expects you to volunteer all day long, but even just an hour of your time can make such an impact on someone's life. After that one hour of volunteering, I guarantee you will be hooked. The feeling you get after you have made even the slightest impact on someone's life is so rewarding. You don't have to commit yourself to an actual volunteer schedule. Any time you have some free time, take that time and use it to make a difference.

I started volunteering when I was in high school. I felt like I always had exams to study for and papers to write. Not only was I bogged down with schoolwork, but I was also a cheerleader and on a dance team. On top of all of this, I was a waitress at a local restaurant. I felt like I never had any extra time for myself. One day I decided that I wanted to make a difference and do some volunteer work. I would characterize myself as empathetic and love to help people, so I knew that I would find the most satisfaction out of volunteering at a hospital. After looking at my schedule, I found that the only time I would be able to volunteer were Saturday mornings. As a high school student, giving up my Saturday mornings was a huge sacrifice but something I was willing to do. After my first day of volunteering, I felt so rewarded. The patients were so appreciative that I took time out of my day to spend with them. I ended up becoming very close to the extended stay patients and continued to volunteer at the hospital until I graduated high school and moved away for college. This just goes to show that as long as you dedicate yourself to volunteering, you will make time to do it and love every part of it.

Recruiting the Best Volunteers

With so many topics surrounding volunteer work, one has to wonder, "Who makes for the best type of volunteer?" It could be an overwhelming sense of selflessness, perhaps the desire to change the world, or even the thought of it being beneficial in the future. So an interesting question to explore is, what appears to be the necessary trait of a volunteer, selflessness or selfishness?

VolunteerMatch has a blog titled, "Volunteering is CSR" that they created to provide information for business professionals (CSR = Corporate Social Responsibility). One of their posts is titled, "Touch Your Employee Volunteers' Hearts to Engage Their Bodies and Minds" by Maura Koehler-Hanlon. She writes that people usually all volunteer for the same reason: it is something they care about. She goes on to explain that one of the strongest forces is intrinsic motivation, and that when people actually care about a cause that they are connected to and truly believe in, they do much better work. This means that when you are talking to your employees about volunteering, the cause definitely has to align with your business goals, but employees will gain empowerment if the cause is also something they care about. The blog post has a strong position on appealing to people's more altruistic emotions. One of the ways that they suggest to pull in employees and inform them of the employee volunteer program of the company is to "tell the story of volunteering" and to pull on "heartstrings." They insist that people should not be afraid to bring up the emotional side of being a volunteer.

There is another volunteer focused company called Realized Worth. They are a global consulting company that helps with CSR but keeps a focus on corporate volunteering. In their blog post, "Want Good Volunteers? Forget the Altruistic, Find the Self Interested" by Chris Jarvis, Jarvis explains who they as a company believe to be the best volunteers. Jarvis writes that people have been complaining that volunteers these days want to know what they will gain by volunteering, and he believes that this is a perfect situation. He states that people will always be inspired to volunteer by random things or people, that people will want to give back or be part of the solution, but that these reasons just aren't enough. He states that when people volunteer, they do so because they are motivated extrinsically, that extrinsic (external) motivation could be the will to "give back." However, while a person may be noble, he states that a volunteer is most valuable when they volunteer based on intrinsic (internal) motivation; having those internal motivators as well, where volunteering meets what the individual is personally invested in, is when great things are accomplished. To back up his argument, he mentions Green and Lepper. The two conducted a study in 1974 that dealt with motivation. When children were rewarded for using felt tip pens, they used fewer felt tip pens. This is because rewards are extrinsic and Jarvis argues that they will hurt volunteer projects in the long run.

The interesting thing about both arguments is that each argues in favor of intrinsic motivation, although they just have different ideas of what feelings are actually intrinsic. VolunteerMatch claims that people who want to do good are thinking intrinsically, and Realized Worth argues that it is actually selfishness that is the true powerful intrinsic motivator. While they are arguing different viewpoints, they can both agree on the fact that volunteering is most successful when people are doing it because they feel something pushing them to volunteer from inside of themselves.

World Changers: Giva Salutes SponsorChange.org

Here at Giva we search for organizations, large and small, that are doing a great job of changing the world around them for the better; and we are pleased to salute them here.

SponsorChange.org

Difficult challenges have arisen in the world of education. From wearing how much debt they are in on their graduation caps to living out of their cars to escape debt, students are becoming increasingly worried on how to lower their debt. One of new ways to lower the debt accrued while in school is as simple as making a change in your community, and it is made possible by SponsorChange.org.

SponsorChange.org is an organization that recruits college graduates to do volunteer work and service projects. These graduates are then rewarded with loan payments, and non-profits gain greater potential by having a stronger workforce of skilled laborers. The motivation behind SponsorChange.org is a noble one. On their website, the organization explains why they decided to create this platform. Student debt has increased and students struggle to pay back their loans and their other bills due to underemployment. They also noticed that once students graduate, the amount of time that they spend volunteering dramatically decreases which leads to non-profits trying to do more work with less funding and fewer people and communities suffering because of this. You can watch an animation of the SponsorChange.org mission under the "How it Works" link.

The criteria for becoming a "Sponsor Agent" is clear cut and open. The agents must be graduates who have proof of student loan debt, the graduate has to have a desire to serve in the community which means volunteer experience is a must, they must have leadership skills, and they will be required to write service blogs and upload photos. The graduates will then be matched with a sponsor and paid for every hour that they volunteer with their non-profit.

At the moment, SponsorChange.org is not a national organization, but they are trying to expand. Non-profits that are not based in the Pittsburgh, Chicago or Washington D.C. area (which is where SponsorChange.org is currently located) can still join and sign up with the SponsorChange.org movement. Or, if you are someone who does not have student loan debt but you would like to donate money to help graduates pay off their student loans and give back to the community, the website also allows for people to become sponsors!

SponsorChange.org gives you the opportunity to look into giving back to the community with an organization that is truly focused on helping everyone get an education and helping communities and nonprofits to thrive with a stronger work force of leaders. For more information, visit their website at SponsorChange.org

Giva Scholarship & Community Ambassador Award Winner Essay: Shila Vardell - Rewarding Experiences

Giva is proud to showcase the essays of its Student Scholarship and Worldwide Community Ambassador Award winners. Below is an essay from Shila Vardell, University of Phoenix. Giva's hope is to inspire others through these essays. We hope that sharing these essays will help others realize the joys and benefits of service.

Rewarding Experiences
by Shila Vardell

Have you ever wanted to make money and feel good about yourself at the same time? There are tons of jobs in the world but not all of them are rewarding. During my undergrad I needed to earn extra money to pay my bills but I didn't want to work in the retail or restaurant industry any longer. I was looking for something completely different. I really wanted a job that I found rewarding. Volunteering was something I found to be rewarding but it wasn't allowing me to pay my bills. One day I sat down and started brainstorming all of the things that inspired me and made me feel good about myself. My list was full of things; cleaning up the environment, feeding and clothing the homeless, caring for the elderly, and donating blood. The problem with my list was that none of these things generated a profit.

After much thinking and determination I finally thought of something. I was going to tutor children who were struggling in school. Not only was I going to tutor children but I was going to tutor less fortunate children at low cost. I would offer my tutoring services on a sliding scale. Meaning, parents who did not make a lot of money would get a discounted rate. This would be beneficial for me because I would make a little extra money. The parents would also benefit because they could pay a very low rate for my tutoring services and the children would benefit by getting extra help with school.

As soon as I figured it all out I went straight to Craigslist. I posted my services and immediately got responses. I had no idea there was such a high demand for tutors to help low income families. I started tutoring right away. The families were so appreciative that someone would take the time to tutor their children and for such a low cost. There were a few instances where I didn't even charge for my services because I knew the families could use the money more than I could. A few months into tutoring I noticed a significant improvement in the children's reading and mathematics skills. It felt so good to actually see an improvement and know that it was because of my help.

One of the parents called me one day and said that I helped save her child. He was in third grade and performing at first grade standards. She said that she and her husband dropped out of school at a young age and didn't know how to help him succeed. Her son's teacher told them that he would be held back if he didn't improve. I spent almost every day at their home helping him. All of my time and effort eventually paid off because four months later he was performing at his grade level and was no longer in jeopardy of being held back. It felt so good to make such an impact on someone's life. I have done many rewarding things in my life but tutoring children is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

Giva Scholarship & Community Ambassador Award Winner Essay Series: Joseph Lee - My Life as a Teacher

Giva is proud to showcase the essays of its Student Scholarship and Worldwide Community Ambassador Award winners. Below is an essay from Joseph Lee, Rush Medical College. Giva's hope is to inspire others through these essays. We hope that sharing these essays will help others realize the joys and benefits of service.

My Life as a Teacher
by Joseph Lee

My second year of teaching has contrasted starkly with my first. The same parking lot, the same classroom (Room 312), and even the same kids greeted me on the first day. With that said, very few things came as a surprise. And while most teachers are presented with a new group of faces each fall, I was able to cycle with my 7th graders. Currently, serving as the primary 8th grade teacher, I am comforted in knowing that if I was to cease teaching at year's end, I would be able to leave with my students. And with such familiarity, I am confronted with new adventures and challenges each day, ones that at day's end are reminders of the lives that are changing. And this difference is in large part to all those who support my efforts and the larger efforts of Teach for America. You can rest assured that hundreds of thousands of student's lives are being positively impacted because of their compassion. And as the rhetoric of failing schools continues to dominate political arenas; it's hard to imagine a nation where all students are guaranteed a quality education. Nevertheless, we teach each day believing that the dream will become a reality.

Amidst all the optimism, however, numerous stains of frustration have diluted the entire experience. As a result of our school transitioning to a year round (Track E) school, summer vacation was shortened to five weeks. And as I recuperated in my parent's homeland of South Korea, much tension was brewing at Parkside Community Academy. The tensions were capped by the dismissal of our assistance principal, Mrs. J (a mother figure and mentor), who was let go due to undisclosed circumstances. This information crushed my spirits, pushing me to the limit, even questioning whether I would be able to take on another group of students. My negativity with the administration was clearly evident, and a journalism student who was curious about Teach for America was dismayed at my downtrodden attitude. She wrote a short piece on my experience and the following excerpt was taken from her corresponding paper.

"During his first year when he was still new to the system, Lee said, he went to work thinking that he could help every student. When asked how he gets through the days now knowing that he can't fix all problems, he said: 'This year is really different than last year because last year, if you asked me that I would've said no, that's why we're here, to close those cracks. But, just to be frank, it's broken me.'"

Upon reading the article I realized that unless I took on an entirely different approach to teaching, the school year would break my resolve again. The words of Helen Keller could not have rung more true than during those moments, a true test of character: "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

With this new-found realization, I internalized new goals that I would strive to accomplish with my students this school year.

  1. Explore the city beyond the confines of our classroom.
  2. Provide a safe haven for my students in the classroom.
  3. Ensure that all 8th grade students will enroll in college preparatory high schools.

With nearly half the school year completed, we are well on our way to achieving these three goals. In turn, my students and I have established a sense of solidarity, which will propel us forward in the coming months.

The Museum of Science and Industry served as the first venue of many trips to come. Many students had never visited the museum, which is less than a ten minute car ride away from our school and offers free admission to my students. In addition to learning about the human body and natural disasters, some students mentioned that it was one of the best school experiences they had ever had. Additionally, through a Saturday trip to the library, I witnessed my students reading independently for a whole hour, an enormous, novel feat to say the least. Ten years from now, they may not remember my lesson on similes versus metaphors, but these experiences will be engrained in our memories forever.

In addition to physical safety, a classroom should serve as a safe haven for students, shielding them from the chaos that often fills their communities. In order to create such an environment in the classroom, we refer to one another as a family. This notion of family manifests itself in the way students help each other during class projects and remind each other to behave. Furthermore, we focus on the big ideas of being stewards and scholars, serving as examples for everyone else in the school.

Learning from my inability to see each of my 8th graders enroll in college preparatory high schools, I made that a high priority this year. We started the year completing mock high school and college applications and are well on our way to numerous acceptance letters in the near future. By attending a high school fair, visiting a high achieving high school, and having high school recruiters come speak in the classroom, my hope is that each student will be enrolled in a school that will dramatically increase the likelihood that they will thrive in the academic arena.

On that note, my students achieved 1 year gains on the ISAT last year (the standardized test for elementary students in Illinois). Of all our teachers, only 4 achieved that. Although it's not everything, it was nice to see that the hard work meant something, and that my students actually learned. I hope that this year will show even more growth, because students such as B. E. deserve it. It would be an injustice to you as a caring sponsor to end this reflection without any mention of B. E., and so I devote this paragraph to her. When I first met B. E., she had a terrible attitude about school, which stemmed from her struggles to read and write coherently. A little over a half year later, she still struggles with her reading and attitude, but has changed more than any other student I have come across. The transformation stems from my ability to earn her trust. She has openly written about my influence on her life, and trusted me enough to let me read a love poem she wrote for her then boyfriend. She explicitly instructed me to read it and revise, but not allow anyone else to do so. I obliged and she was pleasantly surprised with the final product. And while interviewing at a medical school, I had to miss a day of school. During my absence, she pestered other teachers about my whereabouts, asking if I was coming back the next day. They calmed her fears and told her I was, indeed, coming back. And upon my return, she stated that "if you (Mr. Lee) missed another day of school, I was going to slap the Korean out of you." Some people gasp when they hear this. My heart melted.

And with that, I want to again thank those who support me for all they do for my students and I. While our lives could not be any more different, we have come together as a cohesive unit, and our supporters have played an important role in forming the union. I invite you to join us on our journey. We will keep the doors of Room 312 open for you.

World Changers: Giva Salutes "Create the Good"

Here at Giva we search for organizations, large and small, that are doing a great job of changing the world around them for the better; and we are pleased to salute them here.

Create the Good

It is becoming increasingly important for people to find ways that allow them to feel fulfilled; people want to make a difference in our world. The organization "Create the Good" is all about people coming together to make a difference. With a growing workforce of almost 650,000 people and over 7,000 volunteer opportunities, they are helping create a space where anyone can volunteer.

On the Create the Good website: http://createthegood.org/, you will be able to find volunteer opportunities for even the tightest of schedules. You can explore their projects and find inspiration to start up community projects and also search for volunteers so that you are able to build your own workforce to get your projects going.

The "Create the Good" campaign and AARP were started by Ethel Percy Andrus when she was 78 years old (they truly mean it when they say any volunteer; there isn't an age limit on giving back!). She is quoted on their website saying, "The challenge, to live up to our better selves, to believe well of our fellow men and perhaps by doing so to help create the good, to experiment, to explore, to change, and to grow." This woman was not only a visionary in volunteer work, shown in the statement, "to believe well of our fellow men" alone, but the message as a whole is even stronger--that we as people are not complete; we are not doing all that we were meant to (existential crisis alert!) until we are helping our fellow man and believing that they are innately good and are willing to help others as well; that our acts of good and altruistic tendencies are so much stronger than those who are selfish.

By clicking on their "explore projects" link, you will immediately be given access to ways to start something as simple as helping people save money when they shop to sending books to troops and organizing a food drive in your community. Now, AARP in general has many outlets that allow for people to volunteer such as tutoring young children to helping people with their taxes. What sets "Create the Good" apart from their other branches of volunteer work is that Create the Good is huge on inspiration. They want people to inspire and feel inspired so that no one thinks that volunteering is ever too difficult. The service is free and there are multiple opportunities to help out in different ways. By clicking on their "Find opportunities" link on their homepage you will be able to search for volunteer opportunities by keyword, your zip code, your state and even working from home opportunities. Each opportunity comes with detailed information on what has to be done and also start and end dates so that people are able to find the best work for their schedule. If you are more focused on finding help, it is free to register your cause on the Create the Good website and there is no size limit on your cause. So if you need two people to help you out, they are willing to help you find them. After registering, your cause has to be approved and once that is complete you will be able to manage the opportunities you create and track who is helping you out. "Create the Good" is helping fuel something beautiful of which everyone can be a part.

 

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