Our volunteer of the week is Vivian Mak, 23-years-old and a recent graduate of the University of Guelph-Humber. She likes to “shoot babies” (she mischievously enjoys the initial reaction of those who assume the wrong context) in her full time job as the photography coordinator for St. Joseph’s Health Centre. Outside of work, Vivian volunteers for three different organizations and still has some form of a social life.
I sat down with Vivian at a local Toronto coffee shop to talk about her volunteer experiences and how they have influenced her life. Read our interview, below:
Where and how long have you been volunteering for?
I began volunteering long-term after my first year of university, which was five years ago. The journey started at Across U-Hub, an organization that helps immigrant youth adapt to life in Canada. The organization aims to bridge the gap between cultures by creating programs that encourage young people to get out and learn about their multicultural community.
Two years after I started with Across U-Hub, I joined Power Unit. Their goal is to empower youth leaders by equipping them with all the hard skills necessary in business and marketing. Power Unit also gives young people an outlet to put their skills to work in a practical business setting through philanthropic endeavours, such as the planning of various events, like Night It Up!, which raises over $10,000 each year for a different charity of choice. Night It Up! was an event created to bring the unique cultures within our city together. It allows young Power Unit members to have the opportunity to learn how to facilitate an event and carry out business practices.
Check out the trailer for Across U-Hub’s 10th annual Mosaic Scavenger Race below:
My roles at Across U-Hub and Power Unit are fairly similar. I do marketing and videography for both organizations, because I wanted to learn about advertising, while still staying in the photography field.
I am also part of the North American Association for Asian Professionals, also known as NAAAP. The founder of the Toronto chapter contacted me through my LinkedIn profile, originally to photograph some of their events. However, as I felt I wasn’t ready for my own photography practice, I asked for the founder’s mentorship instead. NAAAP gives Asian professionals the strong voice and platform to connect with each other. They hold regular power mixers every month for professionals to make business connections. Throughout my time with NAAAP, I’ve learned more about event planning and how to start my own business.
Why did you decide to volunteer?
I originally discovered Across U-Hub when my mother pushed me into a youth leadership program when I was only 15. I did not appreciate this experience at first. A couple of years later, though, my whole world turned upside down because of a tough relationship in which I had been. I didn’t want to be told that I was useless and worthless anymore and wanted to change how I perceived myself. I needed a safe environment to improve my skills, make mistakes, and regain my understanding of the world. Across U-Hub was the only place I knew of at the time that could help me do that. One of their foster programs focuses on developing the soft skills that in-turn help to develop oneself. Refeel, a program that takes place every Thursday night, gave me a platform to better understand myself through art. Here, I was able to discover and share my inner emotions effectively. Refeel really helped me process and understand the dark part of my life and allowed others to share their stories, as well. After volunteering and finding mentors, I was able to regain my confidence and self-esteem.
How did you have the time to volunteer throughout post-secondary school and full-time work?
I was not really involved in school. Most of my classes were from 9:00am to 4:00pm and because I lived so far away, I couldn’t wait for the school’s evening extra curricular activities. Since all my groups were on different days, there was no real conflict with my work schedule. Sometimes I bit off more then I could chew, but it really came down to good time management skills (which I have really struggled with). With my current full-time job, I have to plan out my time accordingly, but I still manage to balance it all. Knowing when to say, “No” has really helped a lot. This also goes for people who are involved in their school communities.
Did the mandatory 40 hours in high school affect your decision to continue to volunteer?
No. My goal at that point in time was to develop myself, not to complete the hours. I know a lot of people say they don’t want to volunteer because they need to start earning money or look for a paying job…but how do you get a job? I look at volunteering as a way to learn and gain practical experience without spending more money on tuition. I was about to branch out from just a photography background when I landed a marketing internship because of the volunteer work I had done.
“One thing I learned from volunteering is that it’s okay to show your weakness and its okay to show that you don’t know everything”
If you could say anything to young people and those in their 20’s about volunteering, what would you say?
Find out what you want to get from volunteering. If you only want to volunteer to get the hours done, that won’t benefit you. You won’t learn anything or feel fulfilled. Find something that you are passionate about, you want to learn about or in which you want to make a difference. Try something completely new. Make connections. You volunteer because you want you to learn , grow and possibly, hopefully, help others along the way.
What is the hardest and most rewarding part of volunteering?
When supervisors throw you into something you’ve never done before, and believe you can get it done right. Personally, event planning was completely new to me. Having to research, budget and organize a whole list of venues for a big event was very daunting to me. But now that’s a new skill I have.
In the beginning, the most rewarding part was to be acknowledged for something I did well, because I had lacked confidence. When people genuinely reached out to help me get to where I wanted to be, I felt honoured and touched that they would do such a thing for me. Now, as I am becoming more senior in these organizations, the most rewarding part is when the younger kids start looking up to me and coming to me for advice. It shows that I have grown and have done something right. I hope down the road I can leave a mark on someone or inspire them in any little way.
What would you say to someone who wants to volunteer but is afraid of the time commitment?
Do your research. There are certain organizations that only need you to help out for a day or two for certain events. From my experience, you learn a lot more if you volunteer for long-term management and planning roles. It takes more time, but I believe it is worth it. The time will help develop important skills. Just ask. Sometimes organizations will have short-term commitments more tailored to you.
If you could say one thing about volunteering in general, what would you say?
The reason why I’m still so passionate about volunteering is because of the people that I have met in each organization. Each mentor and friend has become such a positive influence on my life. They have taught me life skills, put me back together, given me advice and helped me discover my passions. They have encouraged me to be a better person and have left such an impression on me that I encourage myself to do the same with others. My not-so-secret goal is to become a mentor, too. I have been empowered and in-turn, I want to empower others to change their own world for the better.