During National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting the efforts of several key UWGP volunteers. We hope you enjoy their interviews and are inspired by their service to our community! Looking for a new opportunity to give back? Check out http://volunteer.unitedwaygp.org.
Lily Hanstein, Senior Consultant, pro-voke
When and how did you get involved with United Way of Greater Portland?
I started volunteering with UWGP as a Loaned Executive (LE) in 2015. I was working with Gorham Savings Bank at the time, and they sponsored me to do that program and from there I just really fell in love with United Way. I had already been a community advocate and tried to pitch in where I could, but I soon learned how United Way ran their business in a really collaborative and efficient way. I just really turned on to that. So that’s where I started my relationship with UWGP.
For someone who’s unfamiliar with the LE program, can you describe what you do as an LE?
The Loaned Executive program is when local businesses donate an employee to United Way for about 9 weeks to provide assistance during campaign season. As an LE, I was public speaking in front of businesses, pitching United Way to people, getting leadership guidance and public speaking advice, and visiting local agencies to volunteer there. You come out of the LE experience with leadership skills, knowledge of the community, and an understanding of how United Way works, which I truly didn’t understand when I started. You also become pretty close knit with the group of ten to twelve other Loaned Executives by the end of it because you’re sort of in this whirlwind together, going through a lot together.
Currently, what is your role in relation to UWGP?
I am on the Steering Committee and Investment Committee for Women United, [an affinity group of United Way of Greater Portland] which started last year. That is the biggest commitment I have through United Way right now, but I also served on the CA$H (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) Coalition for a while before I left the banking sector.
Could you share a little more about what Women United is up to?
Women United launched a little over a year ago with a focus on helping low income single mothers in East Bayside, a neighborhood of Portland. We’re taking this two-generation approach and have gone through some training about that, but basically what we’re trying to do is identify a group of women and give them an intense package of resources to be able to help themselves and their children succeed. This approach is backed by a lot of research and it’s something I’m really interested in helping out with.
Can you talk about the skills you use as a volunteer?
Sure. When I volunteered with CA$H, I picked up some really practical skills, such as learning how to do tax returns which is helpful. I’ve also met a lot of people through volunteering that have been able to teach me about new strategies, like two-generation approaches. There’s a lot of training out there that I’ve attended as a volunteer that has educated me. The biggest skill I think is just understanding the way the community works, especially behind the scenes in some parts of the community I didn’t understand before. Then it takes skill to be able to advocate and try to figure out how to convince people that the United Way is an investment that we all need to be part of. I spent part of my LE tenure just trying to figure out how I could get people to see what I saw, and how to make a persuasive argument was definitely a skill that I learned and honed by the end of my time there.
Does that translate into what you do professionally as well?
The thing I love about United Way is what the organization does by putting many heads together to focus on community issues. Sharing the impact of the great work in our community and trying to translate that to people is a lot like what we do here at pro-voke. The idea of coming into a company and helping them work together in a different way that makes them more effective and also more efficient is very translatable between the two, and it’s what I love about my job now and volunteering in the community.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer or what motivates you to stay involved?
I would love to say that it’s because I want to help everyone in the community, but probably the reason I am so drawn to volunteering is the people that I meet. I continue to volunteer because you learn all these new things from the people you volunteer with and there is so much potential from the collaboration. I love the Women United meetings. The women involved are so fascinating; they’ve built so much for themselves in the community and being able to just be around them is something I wouldn’t have been able to do without volunteering.
What have you learned from your experience?
I think that what I’ve learned the most from volunteering is to ask questions of the people who are there. You’ll be impressed by them anyway, just watching them and seeing what they do and how they touch people’s lives, but when you start to ask them questions about how things work and where the real critical problems are and the root causes behind issues, you really just start to naturally think about what is creating tension in the community or how we can fix it. I think asking people questions when you’re volunteering is really important.
What impact do you feel you’re making as a volunteer?
For me personally, it’s the number of people that I’ve roped into coming with me to volunteer! I think I am persuasive, and that’s something I can bring to United Way. I like persuading others that being involved is really worth your time and that you’ll walk away feeling better. I can get really bummed out about stuff that happens in the world, and it’s really easy to get cynical that things aren’t going to get better and to just wallow about some of the world’s problems, but when you go and volunteer, you see that there are good people that are really trying to make things better and in a way that is lasting and permanent. Volunteering lifts you up and it gives you the people that you should be focusing on in the world. It’s these people who are the answer. Besides just giving their time and energy and resources, I think they’re going to be the reason things are going to get better.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about volunteering?
I’d say, you’re going to meet very nice people so there’s no reason to be nervous! I think a lot of people think of volunteering as, oh, I need to go every Saturday for the year, but I think if you go volunteer anywhere once and see what’s going on and then you go out in the community and tell people about it, that’s great. If it gives you a reason to be positive about your community, I’m all for it. I think people get overwhelmed by the perceived time commitment and it’s really not bad. Get what you need from it so you can spread the good word about what’s happening.
Do you have any stories that you’d want to share about any of your volunteer experiences?
Volunteering for the CA$H (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) program* was such a win-win when I was at the bank. I’d just rope everyone into volunteering for it, learning how to do taxes. It was financial literacy for us—it helped us talk to our community, talk about our products, and connect with a part of our community that we didn’t get to see that often. I remember I did a tax return for a man who had a kid at home, and his wife had a disability, and he had like five W-2s from working so many jobs. He spoke six languages and was putting himself through school while working, and I remember he got a big tax return back and I was just so psyched for him. English was not his first language, and people who only speak English can barely do their taxes, so it was great to be able to do these for him and see how happy and relieved he was to get the return that he deserved. I realized there’s so much potential out there if we can just get out of our own way. That was such a cool way to end my night at CA$H, just talking to this really nice man and seeing what hard work looked like. That is my favorite volunteering story.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about volunteerism?
I think my big take-away is just the people that you meet that you would never otherwise meet, because you’re in a different part of the community or they’re community leaders. Volunteering is the best way to meet them. They have fascinating takes, and from being around them, you sort of piece together the way you want to process the community and how you want to look at it and solve problems. I think if you are curious and you like puzzles, you should volunteer. It’s not just a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of act—it makes you think, it really does, so that’s why I would encourage people to volunteer.
*CA$H Greater Portland is a partnership of community non- and for-profit partners (including United Way of Greater Portland) working together to help empower individuals and families to achieve long-term financial stability. Since 2004, the CA$H Coalition has offered free tax preparation to qualified filers during tax season, helped employers bring financial education tools to their employees, and educated hard-working families and individuals about programs in the community that can increase their income, reduce debt, and build savings. CA$H is a year-round resource, providing outreach and education about ways you can make the most of your money.