When Passion Meets Purpose
Editor’s Note: To commemorate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, we’re spotlighting the story of Giovanna Erkanat — a do-gooder and volunteer administrator who’s passionate about managing volunteers at The Arc San Francisco. Here’s her story in her own words.
I began working with volunteers as a program associate at a nonprofit in San Francisco. They needed 50 volunteers every day in order to succeed in their mission, so it was an “all hands on deck”-type of introduction to volunteer recruitment and coordination (I wouldn’t have had it any other way!). I took an interest in specializing in volunteer management because of the relationships I built with some of the regular volunteers at the organization. They were amazing people who gave so much of their time back to their communities, and I loved facilitating meaningful experiences for them.
Since then, I’ve transitioned to being the Development & Volunteer Manager at The Arc San Francisco — a nonprofit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by promoting self-determination, dignity, and quality of life. In my role, I help manage and lead a team of dedicated volunteers serving different functions that are essential for our clients. While their tasks vary, volunteers help our clients learn critical social skills. Some of them live very isolated lives, and volunteers help fill that void.
VolunteerMatch has helped us recruit skilled volunteers with specific skill sets we need to succeed. We recruit several general volunteers to help with our programs — such as facilitating an art class or attending a game night — but we’ve had a hard time finding volunteers for more skilled tasks, such as Salesforce data entry or LinkedIn tutors. VolunteerMatch lets me put a specific call out to the community of active volunteers, and connect with candidates that can give us the specialized help we need.
Thinking it would be a nice way to fill some empty time at The Arc in a healthy way, a colleague asked me if I could find a volunteer to teach Tai Chi to clients while they wait for their ride home in the evening. I didn’t know anyone who teaches Tai Chi (and had no idea where to find someone who does), so I turned to VolunteerMatch. I posted an opportunity for a Tai Chi teacher and within a week, our now volunteer, Patricia, reached out to me. Two weeks later, Patricia was onboarded and began teaching Tai Chi classes at The Arc. She was the perfect fit — patient and flexible. And our class of three clients eventually grew to include 15 (including some of our staff)!
We also recruit volunteers for our fundraising and special events. With the help of 15 volunteers — including some VolunteerMatch employees — our recent Valentine’s Day gala raised over $30,000 in donations for our recreation and arts programs. At the “Ready, Set, Fly” training event at the San Francisco International Airport last September, volunteers helped us train over 50 families that have children with developmental disabilities on best practices for travel at the airport.
I enjoy bringing new volunteers into our community, educating them about our cause and our clients, and matching them with volunteer opportunities that connect them to our organization’s mission. The Arc San Francisco is a very open and welcoming environment, so volunteers fit in pretty quickly. Our clients are amazing people, and I really enjoy creating the opportunity for the greater community to experience just how amazing they are.