Volunteering to Strengthen Community

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Chiedza Pasipanodya Reflects on the Gift of Volunteering at Upwardly Global

“Inspiring,” “motivating,” and “energizing” – all characterize Upwardly Global volunteers’ takeaways after forming deep connections with alumni. Meanwhile, almost every alum thanked the volunteers for being crucial to their success.

Upwardly Global’s volunteer-run Leadership Councils (LCs) champion the work, raise funds, and introduce employers to a rich network of qualified immigrants and refugees. These LCs are key support networks for newcomers entering the U.S. labor market, and it was my pleasure to work with this community of volunteers and newcomers last spring. At the end of the engagement, it was so heartwarming to receive messages of gratitude from volunteers who’d given us their time.

Volunteering – it’s a powerful tool that brings together communities, strengthens our social fabric, and contributes to developing national identity. According to the National Conference on Citizenship, 1 in 4 Americans (62.8 million adults) volunteer their time, energy, and talents through organizations, and 3 in 5 Americans help their neighbors. The time and labor that volunteers contribute is valued at an estimated $184 billion. While that’s a lot of money, the value of community and community-building is invaluable and has ripple effects throughout the country and the economy.

To date, Upwardly Global – through its staff and volunteers – has supported more than 8,500 immigrants, refugees, and asylees to enter commensurate employment. This is in addition to adding over $400 million to the American economy annually and boosting immigrant incomes. This work touches and transforms the lives of newcomers, their families, and their communities across this country.

At a time when it seems like our society is more divided than ever, volunteering reminds of how connected we all are. During a global pandemic, Americans still chose service above themselves and decided to take time to support their neighbors, both old and new. The value of volunteering goes both ways – volunteers gain immeasurable perspective into global challenges and are able to tackle the growing income divide in practical and personal ways and those that receive the services often return to be volunteers themselves.

Volunteers also develop valuable transferable skills (for example, Upwardly Global LC members participate in professional networking, governance of their councils, and a host of other professional skill-building).  Oftentimes, volunteers share that they feel they gained much more than the people they help. The relationships formed, the exposure to different cultures and journeys, and witnessing the impact of their support have an immense positive impact on volunteers. 

Newcomers are more educated than at any other time in American history, with over 45% of recently-arrived immigrants possessing at least a bachelor’s degree. However, 2 million immigrants and refugees who have degrees and professional work experience face systemic barriers that leave them under- or unemployed. Upwardly Global plays an important role in helping these newcomers enter and thrive in the labor market to meaningfully contribute to the economy, our society, and to support their families.

Without a strong network of volunteers, Upwardly Global wouldn’t be able to carry out the work they do on this scale. One volunteer called alumni and newcomers the “heart and soul of the Upwardly Global community,” but it really struck me that it is both the volunteers and the newcomers that form the lifeblood of this organization.

This November, Upwardly Global will be conducting a round of alumni outreach through the volunteer Leadership Councils across the country. Through this outreach, they will contact people who have benefited from the organization’s services to learn about the impact of Upwardly Global, to hear the inspiring journeys of those that have pursued the American dream, and to recruit more LC volunteers or contribute their skills and time in different ways.

If you’d like to be involved, join Upwardly Global at the free Community Gala on October 26, which brings our whole community together. If you are interested in learning more about Upwardly Global, their Leadership Councils, and how to volunteer, you can email Rebecca Neuwirth at rebeccan@upwardlyglobal.org.

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Chiedza Pasipanodya is a workforce development professional with expertise in immigrant and refugee inclusion, retention, and career advancement, working through an inclusion and anti-oppression lens.

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