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Since I attended Catholic school through college, volunteering was part of my school curriculum, and volunteer service hours were required in order to fulfill specific class requirements. I simply saw this aspect of my coursework as something that needed to be done, and I never gave it a second thought. While volunteering, I helped out with after-school programs, volunteered at various non-profit walks, and taught as a swim coach. As a teenager, I never thought volunteering could lead me down such a rewarding career path, but that is precisely what happened.
It was not until my junior year at Manhattan College that I discovered I truly enjoyed connecting people who could learn from one another and make a positive impact on other people’s lives. This realization came after the passing of my aunt, who lost a ten-year long battle with breast cancer. She was one of the strongest women I knew, and was someone I always admired for her strength, determination, and the many ambitious dreams of hers (all of which she accomplished). I knew I had to do something to honor her memory and keep her spirit alive within me. I looked around at what was available to me at Manhattan College and discovered that they had a Relay For Life Chapter. I joined as soon as I found out there were still openings. Although I was nervous, I looked forward to helping plan what I knew was going to be a great event. As a public relations major, I was interested in spreading awareness about Relay For Life around campus, and I planned on promoting it better than the posters hanging around my dorm building had.
As I delved further into doing more volunteer work, I noticed the value in having the goals I set for myself be so deeply rooted in personal experience. Since these goals were so closely tied to my personal life, it helped me focus and stay determined when things at work became overwhelming. In addition, going through the experience with my aunt helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life with a valuable perspective. The combination of my classes in public relations studies and experience with volunteer work helped me realize that this could be an opportunity to combine my passions, and work toward something I felt I excelled at.
I graduated from Manhattan College in May 2012, and I began my career in the non-profit field that fall. I started in a position where I cold-called individuals (which was difficult), but it was my go-getter persona and positive attitude that assured me this was where I needed to start in order to get where I wanted to be — managing events and connecting with volunteers. Surprisingly, I found myself actually enjoying the cold calls after awhile. After the initial nerves wore off, I realized that I was connecting to these people through the mission, and that knowledge made me feel good. During my time at this organization, I received two promotions and ultimately became a manager within a year. It was a lot of responsibility, but I was eager to make my mark on the industry, and do good work.
However, the go-getter in me was not satisfied with only that work. A little while after I was promoted, I was asked to join All Island Kiwanis, a part of Kiwanis International. I was a bit intimated at first, as I was the youngest member, and one of the few females in the group. However, I took all my lessons from college and volunteer work, made the leap and succeeded at the new position. I stepped up to take the lead on projects, and I helped connect people wherever I could. This was my opportunity to give back directly to my community and meet other people with whom I share similar interests. As my confidence within my work setting grew, so did my ambitions and the scope of my future with Kiwanis. Eventually, I was named director at the end of the same year I started, and I am currently preparing for my term as president this October.
Since that first position out of college, I’ve worked at another non-profit organization, and have now found my way to Autism Speaks, where I currently work. It’s here that I feel like I am truly connecting all of the pieces from my past experiences, lessons, interests, and aspirations, at my dream job. I have three cousins on the Autism spectrum, so once again, I’ve found myself in an organization to which I have a deep a connection with on a personal level. I feel excited for what lays ahead, and I look forward to growing, gaining new experiences, and meeting new people. It’s been great to work with friends from Manhattan College who pursued careers in psychology and field services, and be able to work together on a common goal. It’s challenging but exciting to see how people can connect, and come together to make a difference.
Whenever I feel challenged or discouraged, I think about my cousins and the amazing families I have met since starting at Autism Speaks, and remember that the work I am doing is benefiting them. Every day, I get to connect with volunteers, families, and business people who are all looking to make a change and help those affected by autism. I never feel like my job is “work”, I love what I do, and I’m proud that I have the ability to make these connections work on behalf of the families that Autism Speaks helps.
Looking back, I’m so glad that my school required community service at a young age, and that it turned into something enjoyable that became a choice for me to pursue when it was no longer required. Community service ultimately became a career for me — one that I am deeply invested in. I feel fortunate to have found a passion that allowed me to build a skill set outside of my public relations major, which I wouldn’t have acquired otherwise. I feel that volunteering, no matter how involved you get, is a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. It has helped me figure out what kind of work/life balance I desire, and expanded my network through the various community service work I’ve done. It has provided me with a great opportunity to connect with other young women who share similar goals and interests as me, which has been an incredibly rewarding experience.
Have you had a rewarding volunteer experience or found a career in something you volunteered? If not, there are some helpful links below that will navigate you to resources that will help get you connected.
- Volunteer Match
- 3 Websites That Help You Find Volunteer Work
- Create The Good: Community Service, Volunteering, And Charity Work
- Network For Good
- All For Good
Susan Fiorentino is a graduate of Manhattan College and has a BA in Communications. She’s a Senior Coordinator in Field Development at Autism Speaks, and the President Elect of All Island Kiwanis. You can follow her writings on UChic