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The Value of Volunteering: A HOPE-ful Act

Mark Snyder  Follow

You just never know what you’ll discover in your own backyard.

For years, I would pass through the downtown neighborhood of Brooklyn – near Borough Hall and the Brooklyn Court House – and see the banner signs for The HOPE Program. Those aqua green trees became a familiar passing image on my hurried commute back and forth into the city, even though I would never pause to consider The HOPE Program itself, nor its mission statement, nor the significant contributions their programs are making to communities across New York City. Instead, the banners would make me smile brighter at the word “Hope”. Such a tiny word that holds so many meanings.

HOPE provides support, job training, counseling and resources to individuals who have been out of the workforce for a myriad of reasons but are committed to taking lead in improving their lives for the better. Prosek has been a HOPE professional partner for over five years. Their programs offer an abundance of approaches for a diverse group of students, so they can be hired by companies and employers, and learn to be their own confident advocates for their skills and careers. One of the final steps in this process – one that cannot be simulated in the classroom – is the job interview. Given their long-standing relationship with Prosek, it seemed natural that these HOPE communication exercises would happen with our agency.

When students of HOPE sat down with our volunteer Prosekians last month here in New York, everyone was excited for the opportunity. For the HOPE students, it was the chance to present their most polished and best-dressed selves, to have an open and inspiring conversation about the presented job and how they saw that role, and an opportunity to both gain self-knowledge and to gather feedback perspective from our volunteer interviewers. For the Prosek professionals, it was a chance to step outside of their comfort zones a bit, work with narratives that might not match a typical Prosek client discovery session and develop a different way of communicating in a highly individualized way – through eye-contact and intimacy – one that requires quick-thinking and alternative questions as the student drives the conversation. 

Observing these interactions, I was moved by how engaged my colleagues were by these students and how relaxed the students became almost instantaneously. Many of the interviews ran long as the students really started to open up and talk about their experience and skills, and to ask their own questions. There was an optimistic hum in the air and the students emerged from each conversation with their suit coats pulled a little tighter, their backs a little straighter and feeling confident about how they answered the questions posed and the follow-up questions they themselves asked. 

We re-gathered as a whole group for a feedback discussion, all at one table together, and the students were candid in what they each thought they got right in their interviews and what they needed to work on. My Prosek colleagues also shared observations and the conversation was lively and engaged. Previous circumstances weren’t focused on or discussed – everyone in the room was committed to helping these students move forward and ahead.

Nothing is more valuable in our modern world than attention and time, which is why volunteering is such an essential component to the Prosek culture. We can uncover all sorts of experiences and perspectives through spending time giving ourselves to essential organizations like the HOPE Program. Putting the idea of service into action not only feels amazing, but also helps to develop new skills and perspectives that will both inform your professional path and feed your spirit. 

And now, when I notice the banners for HOPE, I think of the faces of our students and our volunteer colleagues exchanging hopeful smiles and discussing the future. 

*Editor’s Note: The HOPE Program has its annual fundraising event “A Taste of HOPE,” an evening of great food, wine and spirits that attracts more than 300 of New York’s most philanthropic residents, top corporate sponsors, and award-winning food and beverage purveyors on May 15 at the Prince George’s Ballroom. Tickets can be purchased here. 

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