It was early in the morning, but there was a line out the door of the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, Massachusetts as volunteers waited to check in for their shifts at Project Homeless Connect.
Organized by United Way, Project Homeless Connect was the first event of its kind in Boston. Designed to help homeless families in Massachusetts get back on their feet, United Way organized a one-stop shop for homeless families to receive legal aid, mental health screenings, interview preparation, child care and more.
Eighteen EF Education First staff volunteered for the day-long event, helping more than 100 families. Each volunteer was paired with a family and helped guide them through the many services available, whether they were looking for resume help, dental services or clothing.
Teri, South East Sales Director for EF Educational Tours, is the reason EF staff had the opportunity to participate in Project Homeless Connect. Teri first connected with United Way when she worked for a nonprofit in Nevada, and wanted to stay involved with the organization when she moved to Boston almost five years ago. Teri ended up on the United Way’s Women Leadership Council board, and after joining EF, saw the perfect opportunity to connect the two.
“When I started at EF, some of the feedback from staff was that they wanted more opportunities for personal development, professional development, and the opportunity to give back,” Teri said. “I sat down with one of my contacts at United Way and asked how we could create a program at EF that supported those goals. We built a calendar around everything that United Way does that falls into those three buckets, then built an EF United Way Ambassador program for the team at EF Educational Tours.”
The EF Educational Tours and United Way partnership began just over a year ago, with 16 staff members serving as EF United Way Ambassadors. “EF United Way Ambassadors support United Way’s mission of education and economic independence, so everything we do falls under those categories,” Teri explained. Managers nominate a staff member to be part of the EF United Way Ambassador program, and the staff member holds that role for an entire year.
“It’s all about finding what you’re passionate about,” Teri explained. “United Way comes in to talk through the calendar, and our ambassadors choose the programs they’re excited about. Then the EF ambassadors own it—they work with United Way and the nonprofit organization, attending meetings and helping recruit staff to volunteer.”
For the Ambassadors, the opportunity to give back to the local community is what makes them so excited to volunteer their time—both in and out of work.
“This partnership with United Way allows people who are new to Boston or Cambridge to have an opportunity to get to know your community,” said Maria, a Global Education Tour Consultant with EF Educational Tours and one of this year’s Ambassadors. “It’s also opened up an opportunity to get to know our colleagues better, I’ve met new people that I didn’t know worked at EF.”
For Carolyn, Tour Consultant and fellow Ambassador, it’s all about working together to help make a difference. “United Way has identified all the key issues specific to Boston, which allows us the opportunity to make a real difference. They identify this problem, we gather our people, and we come together to help one another.”
In addition to events like Project Homeless Connect, the Ambassadors and volunteers participate in other United Way programs. The Summer Learning Collaborative, in partnership with the East End House, has volunteers read books to kids over the summer. EF staff have also worked with the Marion Heard Scholars, assembling baskets full of college-prep items for first-generation college students who received scholarships from United Way.
“Before this program, I always thought volunteering was something I should be doing, but I didn’t know where to start,” explained Carolyn. “Now, we have a platform for actively getting involved, with our colleagues who are just as passionate about the work as United Way.”
For staff who are interested in getting involved, Teri encouraged them to reach out to her. “I love working with United Way because I get to use my talents, work with awesome women, and know that it’s impacting the community positively. Getting to leverage my internal and external relationships while hanging out with different groups of people and knowing we’re having the biggest impact on our community is amazing.”
Carolyn said her time at Project Homeless Connect was incredibly memorable, and something she hopes to continue being a part of. “It was very humbling, it taught me a lot about gratitude,” she said. “I was so excited to help them, but they were really the ones that helped me.”