Full disclosure, I am a Cleveland transplant who never saw Cleveland in the cards until applying for PhD programs. Enter Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences (social welfare) Case Western Reserve University. As of today, I have been in Cleveland just shy of one year – I have to admit, I love it here. Since high school I have made a point of volunteering as much as I am able, with causes or organizations that I feel a compassion or curiosity for. I believe that volunteering is just as important as academic (classroom) experience. Moreover, I believe that volunteering engages networks that may not be established organically. To truly learn about Cleveland, I knew I wanted to volunteer upon moving. When I started at Case Western, I immediately sought out opportunities to get involved in the community without academic ties (i.e. not for a class or group project). The Center of Civic Engagement offered the Civic Engagement Scholars program which I promptly applied for. The program is founded on three objectives:
To create an experiential learning program that promotes active citizenship and allows students to develop a deeper understanding of community issues
To foster connections between students at Case Western Reserve University and members of the Greater Cleveland community
To create mutually beneficial opportunities for student volunteers to engage in meaningful community service activities with local agencies and nonprofit organizations
To meet these objectives, scholars commit to serving 50 hours in the community, 25 at a single site and another 25 throughout the community and on campus. In early September, I saw a posting from Adoption Network Cleveland which was quickly proceeded by two faculty talking of their engagement and support of the organization. I reached out to Adoption Network Cleveland’s volunteer coordinator, who quickly set up a meeting for me to meet the staff and figure out where I would be able to give of time in a way that would help the organization and meet my goals. I found my niche with the Community Outreach committee.
To back-up a step, Adoption Network Cleveland peaked my interest for two reasons, as with most of social work: one professional and one personal. First, I genuinely want to get into the Cleveland community, what better way than an organization that creates and supports families by its very mission? Second, the personal, I grew up learning about my mother’s adoption which was not a particularly positive experience. My fiancé and I are planning our wedding and have started to have the “family planning” conversation. Being that we are two women, one of us can carry a child, but the idea of fostering and/or adopting is something that we are strongly considering as the right option for us. Rather than “choosing” an organization when we come to that decision, I thought it would be logical to meet and get involved now to learn about what adoption is like from the organization’s perspective, from the staff themselves, and from the families I would organically meet by volunteering. This idea helped alleviate the pressure to decide what is right for us from the outside looking in. Volunteering has afforded me the opportunity to just do what I do best – talk with people, volunteer my time at events, and share my experiences with my fiancé as they progress. (Mind you, it’s only been one year – no decisions made yet, but should we choose adoption as the right route for us, we know who we’ll connect with.)
Although I am still a new volunteer to the organization, I am truly appreciative that the staff have always been welcoming beyond expectation. I have truly felt valued for my ideas, and in turn, have made every effort to offer as much as I can to support Adoption Network Cleveland. As a volunteer, I have to admit, I enjoy the planning meetings (the “behind the scenes”) for events nearly as much as attending the events themselves! I believe that is in large part to the fact that the Adoption Network Cleveland staff have made me feel like an important member of their team, even being so new. That being said, Adoption Network Cleveland knows how to put together spectacular community events! From the Annual Holiday Party at the skating rink, to the Annual Conference, to the Creating Futures Benefit and Silent Auction at the Music Box Supper Club, everything has exceeded expectation.
While I came to learn that the Civic Engagement Scholars program is intended for undergraduates, I am truly appreciative that I was accepted, otherwise I may not have found my way to Adoption Network Cleveland so quickly. I have found the opportunity to volunteer for Adoption Network Cleveland to, selfishly, feel rewarding. Conversely, I am thankful that I have been able to volunteer for those whom I may not see or ever meet, yet are recipients of the services rendered. Adoption Network Cleveland is one of the few organizations that offer opportunities and experiences with heart and mind. I have valued my time as a volunteer and plan to stay engaged for years to come.