María Teresa Mejía, The Women's Building
The Women's Building
Organization profile

The Women's Building (TWB) is a women-led community space that advocates self-determination, gender equality and social justice. Each year TWB welcomes over 20,000 women and their families, connecting them with social services, community involvement opportunities, arts, wellness and educational events.

3543 18th Street #8
San Francisco, CA 94110
www.womensbuilding.org

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María Teresa Mejía

By Rana Ayed, Communications & Social Media Intern

When María Teresa Mejía (or just Teresa to those who know her) introduces herself, you travel with her back to Puerto Rico where she was born, then lost her mother and sister to a tragic domestic violence shooting. Teresa describes working with battered women at shelters, co-founding women empowerment organizations, and then restarting from scratch as a Spanish-speaking immigrant in San Francisco.

After Teresa arrived in San Francisco in 1992, she experienced what it meant to be a Spanish-speaking immigrant with no support or resources. That reality was her first connection with what The Women's Building had to offer - support and an opportunity to grow. Her life was changed the day she walked through those doors.

At first, she was a beneficiary of one of the oldest programs carried out by The Women's Building, Information and Referrals. She searched for housing information, work, and volunteer opportunities. And later on, Teresa joined as staff.

"When you are new to a place, you're still looking for a job and community. Connecting with people through volunteering was how I planted the first seeds of my social life here," Teresa says. Her commitment to The Women's Building as a volunteer was rewarded by receiving a call from a friend who worked there at the time. "That phone call had the best news I'd received in a long time," Teresa remembers, "It was a dream come true. To work at the organization that made a difference in my life, to now make a difference in other women's lives."

Teresa walks me through all the services offered by The Women's Building, always emphasizing that these activities couldn't be done without the dedication of their skilled volunteers. These folks range from attorneys to marketers, computer techies and tax preparers, just to name a few.

Teresa describes one particular program at The Women's Building, the Free Income Tax Preparation program, as "a perfect demonstration of how skilled volunteering has tangible benefits to all." It gives volunteers an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, while also providing them with a way to put their professional knowledge into practice on a real-life platform.

Another example of skilled volunteers being rock stars is the Community Technology Lab, a bright and welcoming space on the first floor of The Women's Building that provides free access to computers and internet. "Our vision is to utilize the technology lab as a tool to promote digital literacy among low-income women in the community, thus providing them new economic and social freedom," explains Teresa.

The One-on-One Technology Assistance and Basic Computer Literacy Training programs also engage skilled volunteers, recruiting tech savvy volunteers with a passion to teach as a way of giving back. "If you know how to do something, it doesn't mean you know how to teach it," Teresa confides with a laugh.

Skilled volunteering at The Women's Building can take some unusual forms, such as the painting of a beautiful exterior wall of the building itself. The MaestraPeace is a mural that was painted in 1994 by seven multicultural and multigenerational women volunteer artists. The mural is regarded as one of the beautiful treasures of the Mission District in San Francisco.

Many of the services provided at The Women's Building are conducted by skilled volunteers who share a big chunk of their time, knowledge and areas of expertise to provide a service that otherwise would cost a significant dollar figure. The value of skilled volunteering goes beyond the per hour dollar amount, however. It even goes beyond the positive feelings that the volunteers get for giving back. What matters is that the beneficiaries know that they have an option, they have an address, they have a place to come to and receive high quality services by experts in the field.

Teresa admits there are some challenges when working with skilled volunteers, namely recruiting the right set of skills for each specialized task.

Since most of the services provided by The Women's Building are volunteer-based, an efficient and effective volunteer recruitment process is essential to continue providing the best possible free or low cost reliable services to their community members.

When asked how they recruit volunteers, Teresa says they mostly rely on word of mouth. They also post volunteer opportunities on websites like VolunteerMatch, and publicize on university campuses and at other women's centers.

After journeying with Teresa from her beginnings as a recipient of services at The Women's Building, to her dedication as a volunteer, to her work enabling others to help, I know the future for her and her organization is bright. Mixing a firm sense of belonging, passion for a cause, and the dedication of volunteers who bring their skills to help others, creates a potent combination that will continue to make a difference for this nonprofit's community.

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