Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wellness Diva #6: Erin (The Volunteer)

"The bottom-line is volunteering makes me happy."

Introducing our newest Wellness Diva: Erin Scheopner.

(For the record, I call Erin "Schooner," but for purposes of this post, I'll settle with Erin....)

I am SUPER excited to share about Erin. Erin is one of my closest friends, and I am so honored to write about this gal. I am continually in awe of how incredible and giving of a person she is. I can't even put it into words.

Erin and I met at our first job after college at a local non-profit, Fulcrum Foundation. We both had a passion for education and concept of ALL children receiving access to excellent education (that is what Fulcrum is all about). As I got to know Erin better, I soon learned about her passion for volunteering and giving back to the community. After we both left Fulcrum Foundation, Erin ended up getting involved with my non-profit, Rebuilding Together Seattle, through our Young Professionals Society.

Last month, I highlighted the topic of Service as a Wellness component. I fully believe that giving to others is essential to our overall wellness. There is something incredibly powerful about giving to others, without asking for anything in return. At the end of the day, you know that you almost get more out of giving than receiving.

There is no better person who I think demonstrates the wellness aspect of service than Erin. Erin volunteers more than any other person I know, and I am almost certain that volunteering is her most favorite thing (besides the Beatles, tea, Guinness, and her sister Aubrey).

So, let's cut to the chase, and hear from Erin!

1. When did you first develop your passion for volunteering? Do you remember your first volunteer experience?

I think awareness of others, being grateful for what I have and giving back has always been instilled in me. My family laid the foundation for this and school helped to develop it. My first big commitment to volunteering was probably 8th grade. Each student was assigned to complete 15 hours of volunteer service during the school year. I think I ended up completing upwards of 50 hours by the end because I started working with a group that I loved and didn’t stop after I reached the assigned number of hours. What I was doing never felt like work, I was having too much fun to stop.

High school built upon these experiences and matured them. I went to a high school that highlighted service in all aspects of learning and also put a significant emphasis on being culturally aware. Service projects were part of school life and we were constantly challenged to find ways to be involved in the community and give back. I continued in this vein in college when I got involved with the Children’s Literacy Project at Seattle University and I try to keep this tradition active post-school with the volunteer projects that I am currently involved with.

2. Why is volunteering important to you?

I feel incredibly grateful for and indebted to so many people and experiences and I want to share my gratitude with others. I have been shown generosity and awarded incredible opportunities in my life and I view volunteering as one way to express my appreciation and hopefully make a positive impact on someone else’s life.

Another motivating factor for me, especially with the various homework club programs I’ve been involved with, is the desire to remind people of their talents and intelligence. I think we’ve all had experiences where we feel under qualified and negatively compare ourselves to others. I think it’s important to empower people, especially kids, and remind them of their gifts. I’m honestly blown away week after week by the maturity and depth of the kids who show up to homework help. Many of them say that they’re not smart and I like to help them prove themselves wrong!

3. What volunteer organizations are you currently involved with? Describe what you do.

Right now I’m involved with two organizations, Rebuilding Together Seattle (RTS) and Homework Help at the Seattle Public Library. With RTS I am the Service Chair of the RTS Young Professionals Society, and help to coordinate our volunteer projects (that benefit low income homeowners). The highlight for me is setting up our quarterly projects and meeting with the homeowners to hear their stories. All of them have so much to share and give, it’s always nice to have the opportunity to connect and try to bring some joy and peace in their lives with our projects.

Homework help gets me back to the roots of what I love. I tutor every Monday night for two hours at the Delridge branch of the Seattle Public Library. The number of participants varies from night to night, but there is a core group of kids that I get to see most Monday’s. I absolutely adore the work and connecting with the kids and their families…except when I’m asked to help with algebra! Honestly most nights it doesn’t feel like I help much with the actual homework, but I think that’s the point – I’m there to be a friend and mentor and to show them that there are people who are interested in what they’re doing.

4. How do you feel volunteering contributes to your overall wellness?

The bottom-line is volunteering makes me happy. I always get so much pleasure from talking with people, hearing their stories, learning about their culture and their goals in life. I’ve met some incredible people and get such joy from being a small part of their life. I feel like I’m constantly learning and being inspired. As an added benefit, volunteering also helps keep everything in perspective and is humbling. The best part is that volunteering offers experiences that have to be lived and cannot be bought. I wouldn’t be who I am today and have the interests that I do without these experiences.

5. What are your recommendations for people who want to volunteer more, but aren't sure where to start?

To get the most out of the experience and to be effective you need to find something that you’re truly passionate about and make a commitment. As you can see from my experiences, I enjoy meeting people from all walks of life and working with kids. This may not be for you. If you’re a fan of art, consider volunteering at an art museum, or if you love animals, maybe check out a local shelter. Go directly to the source and see what resources may be available to you. Many organizations have systems in place to accept volunteers or can steer you in the right direction to find a placement.

The hardest part for many is making the commitment, but in the end if you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing I think you’ll find that the commitment is not hard to keep. I look forward to my Monday nights and enjoy the conversations I get to have. You never know whom you’ll meet and the amazing experiences you’ll have.

6. Anything else you'd like to add?

I want to thank you, Margie, for doing this blog and highlighting some really important topics. You’re giving people the chance to read about some really cool things and encouraging us all to take more active steps in our lives. With that, I’d like to encourage and challenge anyone who reads this to think of things that inspire them and consider finding out ways to get involved. I guarantee you’ll learn something, be inspired and will make a positive impact. Thank you!

Erin and her sister, Aubrey, celebrating their favorite musician of all times (Erin - don't think this photo wasn't going to make it into my Blog...)

Erin - THANK YOU. You are incredible. Thank you for being such a huge inspiration in my life and the lives of many! I adore you, Schooner.

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