A Culture of Volunteerism

By September 17, 2018Community, Culture, Volunteering

My first face-to-face SEI interview took place in a little coffee shop in downtown New York City. It was mid-December and I was meeting Jason, the Managing Director of the office. I was stoked and nervous to meet him and to hear more about the unique job opportunity – one that I had not even considered looking for. I had been in big consulting for over four years and was, quite frankly, very burnt out and frustrated by what I now understand was a cultural mismatch for me. I tried to wade through the politics and cut-throat competitiveness to find areas where I could thrive and even derive a little bit of joy. I had found this joy externally in my role as the NYC volunteer coordinator. In fact, after my interview with Jason, I was scheduled to host our annual gift-wrapping party for a children’s holiday toy-drive event.

I arrived a little early and grabbed a table where I could prop up the bags filled with wrapping paper, bows, and my ubiquitous laptop bag. As I ordered a coffee, I thought about what types of questions I should ask, what Jason might be asking me, and took a few deep breaths to calm my nerves. When he arrived, we quickly jumped into an easy rapport. Sometimes an interview can be challenging from start to finish, but I felt like we were really trying to get to know one another and asking meaningful questions.

Those that know me understand that I do not immediately surface the most effervescent side of my personality. I observe, and I engage, but I am a bit reserved until I get to know you. We had the standard exchange about my work history and current projects. However, when Jason asked what I was passionate about and would uniquely bring to the team, it was very easy for me to identify volunteering as something I loved and would want to take with me into any new role. I prattled on excitedly for a few minutes about organizing events and how much it meant to me to give back. He shared some of the great causes that SEI supported and how he wanted to grow the NY volunteering portfolio. There seemed to be a great synchronicity; hearing about how involved SEI was in the community took my interest to the next level. It surprised me that I could be this excited about an opportunity at my first in-person interview. Needless to say, I continued through the interview process and eventually joined SEI.

If there is any phrase that most summarizes my philosophy on volunteerism, it is this: “When you give, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” This is a bit of caution about the spirit of giving without an expectation of recognition or praise. While I always try to find the balance between advertising what we’re doing and keeping the focus on the cause, awareness is key to rallying support for anything great. How can anyone help if they don’t know what is needed or whom it will help? We have a fantastic roster of organizations we support, from mentoring high school students, supporting the families of critically-ill children, to raising money for medical research. One of the organizations we support regularly is Citymeals (a subset of Meals on Wheels in NYC), who provides meals to elderly and homebound individuals. Volunteers can support the organization with donations or by assisting in meal delivery, of which we usually take on the latter. This is not the most glamorous of our events, but I find it incredibly rewarding. Rain, freezing cold, or sweltering summer heat, meals must be delivered. We are often the only “visitors” these folks have during their day. We touch the lives of so many, however briefly. We finish sweaty, tired and content because it’s clear just how much the recipients appreciate the time and effort of volunteers who show up for them.

Looking at all the great work we’ve done and will continue to do, I am filled with pride. What I heard in that first meeting wasn’t just lip-service; SEI fosters a culture of volunteerism. It’s a reflex… it’s second-nature. We all lead busy lives and extracurricular activities can be de-prioritized. However, something is noticeably missing when we haven’t come together for an event in a while. When we are connecting with causes that matter to us, volunteerism brings us closer to our communities and to each other.

Sarah Reilly

About Sarah Reilly