Kaitlin Fasse arrived at Volunteer Center office last fall seeking a volunteer position, or as it turned out, several volunteer positions. After six years in an uninspiring office job, Kaitlin was longing to dive into work that excited her on a soul level. For Kaitlin, that work was educating and mentoring youth, even if it meant squeezing in a volunteer position during her lunch breaks.
Armed with several referrals to local tutoring programs, Kaitlin left our MATCH appointment and quickly began volunteering with a local educational enrichment project, The Young Writers Program.
Soon after our meeting, Kaitlin’s job was outsourced and she found herself with a modest severance package and a lot more flexibility in her schedule. While she might have viewed the lay off as a harrowing obstacle, she instead saw it as the “perfect opportunity” to pursue more of the volunteer work she enjoying.
We recently caught up with Kaitlin, now volunteering for a total of four non-profit programs, to discuss how her experiences volunteering are helping her understand how to effect real change, say no to fear-based decisions, and lead a life she loves.
Can you tell us a little about the organizations you are volunteering for and how you have made a difference in the community?
Working with the Young Writer’s Program is so much fun. We tutor kids in Santa Cruz City classrooms for 4-6 week projects leading to the publication of their creative writing. All of these kids have great, wonderful stories that they don’t think anybody cares about. Then they tell their story in their own voice and it ends up being the most wonderful publication because you hear all these snippets from people’s lives and it’s all told from a kid’s perspective. I think kids need to know that their community cares about what they have to say and I don’t think that always happens.
I also started volunteering as a mentor with Girls Moving Forward. Girls Moving Forward is an after-school mentoring program for middle school girls. These girls are experiencing a lot social pressure, so to get them to trust you is an extremely difficult feat. But once you build trust, you have an opportunity to offer advice, help them come up with solutions independently, and show them the potential to go to college. Those moments when I could see them absorbing the information were so rewarding for me.
What kind of changes have you witnessed in yourself from doing this kind of work?
My life has completely changed since I started volunteering. As someone who wants to pursue education policy, it was important for me to see what’s actually going on before I try to effect change. Having the chance to see what’s happening on the ground has been life altering, completely rewarding and invaluable. I just couldn’t have gotten that from a textbook or from watching a movie.
Volunteering also gives me energy. I used to sit in an office 50 hours a week, typing, answering the phone, having people complain to me all day long essentially. So to be effecting this positive change in children is just incredible. When you find out what you want to do and are actually able to do it, it just makes you so happy and everything else just falls away.
How has volunteering affected your sense of belonging and connection to our community?
I have lived in Santa Cruz for 11 years but I have never felt fully connected to the community. After working in the schools it gave me a sense of community that I haven’t felt anywhere else before. I made connections with all kinds of different people and everything has led to something else, which is really great in terms of my career.
Everyone can benefit from feeling a sense of connection to our community because if you feel loyal to a place, you are going to treat it better. It might sound idealistic, but if everyone can feel that connection, we can have this great community that we are all a part of and that we don’t just live in, but contribute to.
You were eventually offered another job at the company where you were laid off? Why didn’t you take it?
I think I didn’t take the job back because I was still somebody outside of being a customer service rep. I still had this other life volunteering. It wasn’t like everything was being taken away from me when I was laid off. If I hadn’t been volunteering, I wouldn’t have known that potential. For the first time in six years, I knew I didn’t have to make a fear based decision.
What advice would you give to someone who was looking to get involved in volunteering?
The first step is to figure out what you like to do. This can be a difficult question when you life is consumed with work that maybe isn’t so rewarding. I set up a Volunteer Match Appointment at the Volunteer Center and they really helped me get started.
You can also explore your interests and options by going through the Volunteer Center’s searchable Volunteer database Hands on Connect at www.scvolunteernow.org and looking through the organizations that need help. Then just go and do it. It can be extremely rewarding and it can become your life’s purpose.
MAKE YOUR MOMENTS MATTER: Check out Kaitlin’s volunteer opportunity or view our complete list of youth success opportunities:
Tutor With the Young Writer’s Program
Check Out Youth Education & Empowerment Opportunities