Why I Volunteer to Break the Cycle of Poverty

Tatiana Ware, a customer support analyst at Workday, shares how ending the cycle of poverty won’t happen with just funding and donations—it requires sharing our time, resources, and skills, and building relationships through volunteerism.

This VIBE Voices story is shared by Tatiana Ware, a customer support analyst at Workday.

Some of my earliest memories are of being separated from my family and living in a foster home. I know firsthand what it’s like being on public assistance, not having many of my basic needs met, and being reliant on the kindness or charity of strangers. 

Decades later, I have a career at Workday that I love and that allows me to grow and learn. I'm building a financial future for myself that will make things easier for me and the next generations of my family.

But my material reality is not shared by everyone in my family. My own journey has taught me that just as interest compounds, so do losses from a lack of opportunity. While it’s not impossible to counteract, it does take more effort and investment to make up the difference.

Even as I continue to strive toward my dreams and goals, I’m constantly thinking of all the people who have not had the same privileges I’ve had—in fact, many have experienced barriers to opportunity threefold to what I’ve overcome. Amidst this ongoing global pandemic, the opportunity gap has only widened. 

Giving Back Is Critical

That acute awareness and my sense of responsibility to my community, instilled in me by my upbringing, is why I’m so passionate about volunteering.

Making a financial investment to a nonprofit that shares your same passion is a wonderful start to contributing to your community. But we also need to share our time, resources, and skills, and build relationships through volunteerism. I am where I am because someone made opportunities available to me at pivotal moments in my career. And just like me, people are actively looking for a chance to show what they can do.

The areas I care most deeply about are education, healthcare, and access to opportunity, especially because poverty is such a big issue in the San Francisco Bay Area. At this stage in my journey as a volunteer, I want to serve my immediate community in a deeply engaging way where I can make a lasting impact.

When I learned about Rubicon Programs, a nonprofit organization based in the Bay Area, I found an organization that shares my values and passion for partnering with communities to close the opportunity gap. Rubicon Programs assists individuals in gaining the economic mobility needed to exit the cycle of poverty, with the vision that one day no one in the Bay Area will live in poverty. The organization impresses me with its commitment to addressing the needs of the whole person.

For example, Rubicon Programs offers not only training and workforce development opportunities so that people can find thriving-wage jobs, but also financial training so they can build small emergency savings, which is really difficult to do and critical for individuals who fall in the low-income bracket. 

"My own journey has taught me that just as interest compounds, so do losses from a lack of opportunity."

Tatiana Ware Customer Support Analyst Workday

In addition to parenting classes and legal services, Rubicon endeavors to be a positive social connection for its participants and provides coaching and experiences that deepen their confidence in their natural and earned leadership capacity, so that they can transform their families and communities. Rubicon partners with participants to increase their navigation of the existing flawed systems, while simultaneously increasing  their leadership engagement  to dismantle the systems rooted in racism and inequity.

To me, volunteering with communities that have traditionally been denied access to opportunities isn’t about charity, it’s about justice. It’s about treating people like human beings who have agency and know what they want and need, and doing what we can to clear the path for them to achieve their goals. 

Be the Change You Want to See

It's rewarding to me to see others do well, especially individuals who face barriers to employment. After all, I don’t think it should be considered a privilege to earn a living wage, to have access to healthy food, or to go to the doctor when you’re sick. I can’t accept living in a world where so many in our own communities struggle to meet their basic needs, which is why I work towards the realization of a new reality that promotes health, economic security, and overall community wellbeing.

When the opportunity to serve on the board for Rubicon Programs first floated my way, I was hesitant. Could I really add value to a board? The idea alone sounded intimidating, but through a course offered at Workday, my confidence in my ability to give back in a meaningful way through board service only grew. 

In my volunteer experience serving as a board member, I exercise muscles I don’t necessarily use in my day-to-day job—from telling success stories about Rubicon Program participants to weighing in on preserving the financial future of the organization. I’m learning something new with each project and interaction with Rubicon Programs, something I’d never considered prior to stepping up to serve on the board. 

"Volunteering with communities that have traditionally been denied access to opportunities isn’t about charity, it’s about justice."

I’m humbled that Workday chose to support Rubicon Programs with a grant as part of its pledge to invest $10 million to help fight for social justice. I deeply believe that corporations have a responsibility to contribute to our global communities, and I was struck by Workday’s commitment to being a part of the change. Also, through our Workday initiative Opportunity in Action, our Workmates are committed to collectively donate 250,000 volunteer service hours by 2023. I’m contributing my service hours to Rubicon Programs, and any person outside of Workday can also join in committing to close the opportunity gap in their organization.

For organizations like Rubicon Programs working to close the opportunity gap, I go back to what it means to truly support justice for communities that need it most. And at the start of a new year, which also happens to be National Mentoring Month, I can’t think of a better time to examine your own commitments to bettering the world around you. 

Taking the Next Steps

How can you open the door for someone else? How can you make the path easier for someone else? Because we all walk unique paths and our own experiences shape how we view the world, I think it’s easy (and natural) to think of ourselves as the underdog.  But as the underdog, now think about how you will use your sphere of influence to help the next underdog be successful when they get their shot. How will you create access to opportunity for someone who has fewer privileges than you?

It’s not always easy to find the right volunteer role. In fact, finding the right opportunity can be a lot like dating. You’ve got to figure out what the landscape is, what you like and don't like, what is and isn't a match, and what will help you grow. 

Arriving at the intersection of your gifts, talents, and interests and what your community needs can be a beautiful thing. What’s most important is to choose something and get started. I encourage everyone to find something this year to help leave the world a better place. 

Our VIBE Voices series provides a place for conversations around VIBETM (value inclusion, belonging, and equity). Read more VIBE Voices here.


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