Meet Renee – our spotlighted volunteer of the month. Renee has helped out in a variety of programs at Neighbors. Find out what she has to say about her experience below in our Q & A conversation.
Q: What brought you to Neighbors?
A: A couple of years ago, I was struggling a lot with depression. It reached a point where I had could not handle the stress of my job and had to leave. Unemployment was brutal, and I needed something meaningful to do during the day while I was searching for a different job, so I started volunteering at Neighbors. At first, I was just looking for a little work to do in my day, but eventually it became so much more than volunteering in my community; Neighbors became my community. The staff were really there for me during this difficult time, and were very supportive of me as I searched for a new job. When I eventually got a job, I still had to come back to Neighbors when I could to come see my community.
Q: Describe your involvement with Neighbors.
A: I started out helping in the Clothes Closet and tried to get in shifts at the food shelf whenever I could. Eventually, word got out that I spoke Spanish, so I was asked to help with the Holiday Gift Program. I have also represented Neighbors as an Ambassador in the community at various school events. In the summers I occasionally help with the Summer Meals Program in local schools. Now that I have a more regular schedule for work, it is a lot harder for me to find time volunteer, but I have found a way to connect my work with Neighbors. I work for NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and we were looking for more ways to get involved in Dakota County, so I suggested Neighbors. Now we are doing a collaboration where we give classes and workshops for staff, volunteers, clients, and community members on mental health at Neighbors.
Q: What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
A: I really love the community: the other volunteers, the staff, and the clients we serve. My favorite thing to do with Neighbors is the Holiday Gift Program. I speak Spanish, so I get to help the Spanish-speaking families who apply for assistance. I love getting to hear parents talk about their children and the toys they like to play with. I also love any excuse to get to speak some Spanish!
Q: What do you do when you’re not at Neighbors? What did you do before you came to Neighbors?
A: When I am not at Neighbors, I am working for NAMI Minnesota (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I teach classes about mental health, mental illness, and suicide prevention. For fun I like to play badminton and do anything I can outdoors. Before I came to Neighbors, I was volunteering in Argentina. While I was there I helped teach English in two schools, served in a church, and worked in a school for adults with disabilities.
Q: Why do you volunteer?
A: I volunteer because Neighbors has always been a part of my community, and I love being a part of its community. Whenever I come in, I always get greeted by smiles and sense of welcome. Coming to Neighbors always feels like coming home.
Q: What’s your best/favorite memory about Neighbors?
A: We had an event where we were collecting food donations in a grocery store parking lot. One of the moms brought some fun food-related costumes for the kids to wear to help collect donations. However, she also happened to have a couple of inflatable T-rex costumes as well, which the teenagers were much more interested in wearing. I really wanted to create signs saying “Make hunger go extinct,” to make the costumes more relevant to our purpose. Apparently, even without the signs, having teenagers run around a parking lot in inflatable dinosaur costumes must have still been good marketing, because we ended up getting quite a lot of donations!
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about volunteering?
A: Try helping at all the different programs Neighbors has to offer. Neighbors does so many things to help our community, and it is great to play a little part in all of them.