Feb 2016 Advocate: Faculty give back to the community


“I wanted to help someone in my hometown”

by Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co-Vice President & SCI Organizer

Who works for no money and no large displays of recognition?  How is it possible to take time out of our crazy-busy schedules — often chewed up by long commutes, pulled in a dozen directions by family obligations, the needs of our students, piles of paperwork and endless meetings — to help others? And when do we do the laundry?

When SCI organizers Katharine Harer and Michelle Kern designed the Community Connections Survey and sent it out to faculty members last fall to see who among us is doing this selfless work, we weren’t surprised – we expected that some of us were doing volunteer work – but we were gratified, even moved, by the depth of involvement. We received responses from a mix of faculty members–full and part time, spread among all three colleges. Here are some of their stories.

The title of this piece comes from Skyline piano instructor, Julia Hansen (in photo, below left), when she was
JuliaHansen-webasked what drew her to tutor English through the Reads Program in the Half Moon Bay Library.  Here’s what Julia told us about helping someone in her hometown:  “Last year, Theresa, who speaks beautiful Spanish, went from limited English to becoming ready for an ESL class — but she can’t take one yet as she works full time as a housekeeper at a Half Moon Bay hotel. I also helped her 8 year old with math and taught Theresa how to do flash cards with her daughter and showed her books to read with her.”  When I asked Julia how she finds time to devote to volunteering, this was her response: “It is so joyful to see a student get better week by week, and it has given me an insight into the Latino community here.” So joy trumps busyness!

Another music teacher, Lindsey Huff Breitschaedel (in photo, below left), responded to our survey — a coincidence?  LindseyHuff-webDoes playing music make you nicer?  Lindsey teaches piano at Cañada and gives her time to an organization in San Jose called Supporting Mamas.  “I went through a huge struggle after my son’s birth because I was suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, but I didn’t have any resources to find help or support.  When a mom I work with tells me she also struggles as I did, I’m able to give her an outlet and a way to connect.  Most moms feel that they have to pretend they are okay. Their relief at being able to share gives me such a thrill that I get goose bumps. For me, it makes the whole struggle and recovery from my depression and anxiety worthwhile.”

I asked Lindsey how she finds time in her life to volunteer – she teaches, she’s a mom; she must have a few other things filling her life and her to-do lists.  She said, “When life gets crazy and I’m under a lot of pressure from other obligations, I’m motivated by the stories of recovery and the memory of how overwhelming it can be to find help when one is in the thick of things.  My stress pales in comparison with what these moms and their families are going through.”

The stress of tax season – I know I’m feeling it right about now – doesn’t bother Donna Marcus (in photo, below left), who Donna-Marcus-webteaches in the Business and Technology Division at CSM.  In fact, she warms to the opportunity to help people do their taxes.  Donna volunteers with the United Way’s “EarnitKeepitSaveit” program, doing free tax preparation for those in need.  When I asked her what gives her the most satisfaction about her volunteer job, she answered,  “The gratitude I receive from others by helping them accomplish something they could not do on their own.”  And how does she find the time?  She just does it:  “The ability to do something to help others and to make things easier for them” makes it worth the effort.

Julia Johnson (in photo, below) is famous at Skyline for heading up Heart Wrenchers, a groundbreaking program for Julia-Johnson-webwomen in Automotive Tech who learn to work on cars and move on to careers in the automotive industry.  Julia became aware of the needs of several local nonprofits when the Automotive Program partnered with these organizations to provide car repair to low-income families.  Now she volunteers her time with the San Mateo HIP Housing program, the San Mateo Shelter Network and St. Vincent de Paul.  When I asked her why, she answered:  “I get the most satisfaction from helping people in need. A little help can go a long way in the life of someone else.”

When I asked how she juggles so many different responsibilities and still makes time to volunteer, she answered:  “When I think about my schedule and my struggles, I have to remind myself that I’m not so important that I can overlook other people.  There are people in our community who face struggles that I can’t even imagine and donating even an hour of my time can have a dramatic impact on someone else’s life.  Basically, I have an amazing life with a wonderful family, a fantastic job, a home and a supportive community – my life is blessed. Shouldn’t I be helping people who need a helping hand?  The answer is “yes”!  Anything less would be just plain selfish.”

Another view of volunteering comes from Jessica Silver-Sharpe (in photo, below left), a Librarian at Skyline. Jessica works JessicaSS-webwith her children’s school to raise funds and collect food for the Second Harvest Food Bank.  “As a ‘volunteer junkie’ I find working without pay very freeing; for some reason, I’m more willing to challenge myself at something new. Inevitably, I learn something about myself or grow in a way I didn’t expect, which is a real added bonus to the more obvious satisfaction of ‘helping.’”  When asked what drew her to the food bank, Jessica answered: “I saw the billboards along the freeway showing hungry kids.”

A big Thank You to everyone who responded to our survey, and I apologize that I couldn’t get each of your stories into this article.  Those of you who didn’t respond the first time can still reply on our website: aft1493.org.  We also plan to send the survey out again in the near future. It’s quick — 3-5 minutes in-and-out – a lot quicker than the volunteer work we do.  Tell us about what you do.  We’d like to create links between our union and our community, and you can help us.