A Volunteer’s Guide to Giving Back

The most important lessons I’ve learn after 40 year of service to a human services agency

a story from Staff Leader Jennifer McDermott

Annemarie House, “then”

It was the Child Welfare Reform Act of 1979 that shaped the role that Annemarie House initially fulfilled at Catholic Family Center (CFC). The Act was passed in response to aid the number of children lingering in foster care and Annemarie was hired to do that. With a master’s degree in social work from Catholic University, she started her career at CFC as a supervisor of Preventative Services where families with children at risk of foster care placement or in need of being re-unified were provided counsel. Forty years later, after a fulfilling career in social services and raising her two children — a son and a daughter, Annemarie continues to generously share her time and talent with CFC, now on a volunteer basis.

When you are affiliated with an agency and see first-hand the level of devotion and passion of the staff, you want be involved in the same way,” said Ms. House. “CFC fosters volunteerism, so fortunately, I have been able to help contribute to the well-being of the agency, first as an employee and today as a volunteer.”

Over the years, CFC has provided Annemarie a comfortable and familiar venue, challenging yet gratifying experiences, and colleagues who she views as an extended family. It was during her job interview in July of 1979, that James Maloney, executive director of CFC from 1970 to 1988, advised her on the importance of having a tax deferment plan. This is a conversation and a bit of advice typically a parent would share with his/her a child. Since that initial interview, Annemarie knew CFC was a special place. She’s felt a connection and an unwavering loyalty to the agency ever since.

In 1985, Annemarie left the agency to pursue motherhood only to return the following year on a part-time basis as a licensed clinical social worker offering counseling services to individuals in need. Eventually, her work at CFC spring-boarded into a career at Nazareth College where she served as an Associate Professor of Social Work, Director of Field Placement and Director of Services for Students with Disabilities. In 1992, Annemarie began her adjunct career as a CFC volunteer.

Annemarie House with Mary Hannick (and the famous social work felt board). Mary Hannick was CFC’s Director of the Genesee Settlement House from 1947–1971, and was a lecturer at Nazareth College.

Over the past 40 years, Annemarie has seen our agency go through transitions as it adapted to meet the changing needs of our clients. One thing she mentioned that has not changed is CFC’s mission to assist the vulnerable and underserved, which is her passion too.

As one of the baby boomers dreaming of retirement one day, I wonder how to approach my next 30 years in a way that is full of meaning, impact, and purpose. I wonder: How do you match your passion with the ideal volunteer outlet? How can I continue to live my life with purpose? What is the best #ThirdAct for me?

In sitting down with her recently, she shared some interesting insights on volunteerism. Annemarie says to…

Annemarie, today

Identify your passion.

Start by defining what you are passionate about. Is it people, animals, the environment or perhaps a cause? Once you identify your passion, it will help to identify the type of work you’re most interested in and the potential outlets to pursue.

For Annemarie, she continues to carry out her passion to help those who are underserved through her work at CFC. Early in her career, she focused on children and refugees and today on the aging.

She was here at the inception of the STAR Program initiative that was put in place to help older adults remain independent in their homes. She also was involved with helping refugees fleeing Vietnam after the war to seek out housing, ESL classes, clothing, financial assistance, proper government documentation and citizenship status, a place of worship, and healthcare — so that these individuals and families, and sometimes accompanied by aging grandparents, could become self-sufficient residents of our community. Later, she responded to the inherent needs of aging refugees resettling from Nepal and Sudan.

Be realistic about the time and energy you can commit.

Define a personal time-frame that you can commit to and realize that your availability may change at times.

In 1992, Annemarie became a CFC volunteer. She was recruited by leaders of our programs that serve the elder population, and served two three-year terms on the Board of Directors. Currently, she serves as a member of the Aging and Elderly Advisory Committee (almost 20 years later). Since 1992, her role has evolved from dedicated Board member, advising on strategy and policy concerns, to a more operational, hands-on role serving the program needs of an area she cares a great deal about.

While she has taken breaks in her service as family and work commitments became a priority, what has been most meaningful to Annemarie’s volunteer avocation has been her ability to be hands-on and develop a relationship with program leaders and staff. Being clear about time availability, and how that might change throughout the year, has helped both Annemarie and CFC be realistic — and delighted — with the contributions she has been able to make.

Enjoy the gratification.

Being affiliated with an agency can lead to rewarding work. Indeed, any opportunity to reflect on the impact your work has made can just feed your heart, and serve as a sweet reminder why you are committing time from your life to this cause.

“I always looked forward to class with Professor House. She has this ability make you immediately comfortable and has a warmness that draws you to her. I learned a lot from her, because she didn’t just teach from a textbook but also from her vast life experiences, bringing real-life into the classroom. Her welcoming smile, wise words of advice, and encouragement have all helped me to grow, not only as a professional, but also as a human being. Thank you for being that ray of light for me and so many others.” — Ashley Baranes, former student of Ms. House

What should you take into consideration when selecting an agency to volunteer at?

Annemarie suggest the ideal agency should practice the following…

Offer training to volunteers.

Typically, an agency will have a volunteer coordinator who can match your skills and interests to positons that are available. It’s wise to become familiar with the agency’s personnel policies in advance and to connect with all supervisors.

Collaborate with other agencies.

The emphasis shouldn’t be on duplication of services, but rather identifying and creating opportunities to collaborate with other agencies in the community. You will have more of a feeling that your contributions of talent and time are having a direct and collective impact on the community in which you live.

Focus on the unmet needs in the community.

The agency’s attention should be on putting the needs of their clients first and making sure that there are offerings to meet their needs. A needs assessment can help agencies identify and create services for the underserved populations, and outside volunteers may have many transferable skills from their business experience to assist with this.

Annemarie has experienced a strong desire and calling to give back by helping those in need. Her parting words to me were, “volunteering at an agency is important and so much of my lifeblood.” She was recently recognized at Catholic Family Center’s Centennial Annual Meeting on June 20, 2018 in appreciation of her 40 years of service and commitment to CFC, and on behalf of the hundreds of other volunteers and interns who serve alongside us, each and every year.

Catholic Family Center is the largest provider of family services in #ROC, addressing issues of need across all stages of life. See more: www.cfcrochester.org

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