Sean is 27 years old. He grew up in Waterloo Region, loves cycling, reading and playing video games. A few years ago he started working at Vidyard.
But Sean isn’t just another tech guy. Sean has a disability and he landed a job as an office assistant thanks to a program offered through KW Habilitation, a charity that helps adults and children with disabilities.
“There are many Seans out there,” said board President Jeff Collins, who shared Sean’s story as part of Pitch In! which helps would-be volunteers in the tech community learn about organizations that need their skills – think speed dating for charities.
The event, sponsored by Communitech in partnership with the non-profit Plugin, was held at the Tannery Event Centre on Thursday night.
Jeff Collins, board President at KW Habilitation,
pitches his charity to the crowd at the
Tannery Event Centre.
(Photo: Phil Froklage for Communitech)
Collins asked a crowd of about 150 people to give up a few hours to build LinkedIn profiles for KW Habilitation members and an online space where companies can connect with members looking for work.
“It’s especially rewarding for me,” Collins said after his pitch. He began volunteering with the organization about five years ago and met his fiancé when they were both board members.
Five other volunteers took the stage for about five minutes in a competition-style event to pitch their charity, asking for time rather than money. No slides. No pomp or pageantry, just personal stories about how volunteering affected their life.
“It’s a really good model for trying to connect people with charities in a short period of time. It’s maximum exposure,” said Laura Flatt, a Plugin board member.
“We know, especially in the tech community, a lot of people move here for work and putting roots down in the community is sometimes hard, but volunteering helps you grow stronger roots,” she said.
Along with KW Habilitation, five other charities got the spotlight:
- Jane Klugman, president of the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society board, told the crowd the organization has 100 programs that all specialize in love and teach empathy and do it without any government funding. Volunteers sit outside crates and read to human-wary animals until they learn that not all humans should be feared. “When we find pets that aren’t well looked after we often find people who aren’t well looked after and we take care of both of them,” she said.
- Mike Pereira talked about how Moving Beyond Violence – Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region was helping women and their children escape abusive relationships. “We haven’t created a community that makes it safe for women to talk about domestic violence,” he said. Waterloo police respond to 16 calls a day about domestic violence and Women’s Crisis Services runs two shelters with 90 beds that are full every night. “Those are just the numbers we know about and that scares me,” Pereira said.
- Greg Barratt told the crowd that TheMuseum offered an opportunity to volunteer at “one of the coolest places in the region.” More than 80,000 visitors walk through its doors every year, and have taken in exhibits on Andy Warhol, Dinosaurs and Egypt, among others. He tried to entice people to loan their skills and time to the Underground MakerSpace, which is part art class, part design studio and part woodworking shop, he said.
- Beisan Zubi pitched the KW Multicultural Centre and its conversational English program. Volunteers commit to meeting with a newcomer or refugee and having simple conversations with them to help them learn English. Zubi, who volunteers in the program, said it quickly became the “bright part” of her week. Her conversational partner echoed that sentiment, telling the crowd that meeting with Zubi not only improved her English, but also helped her make her first friend in Canada.
- Lizzy Azuya talked about Junior Achievement Waterloo Region, which offers programs for at-risk youth on financial literacy and entrepreneurship. When she arrived in Canada as an international student a decade ago it was volunteering that helped Azuya integrate.
“It helped me develop my Canadian social skills, so learning to say sorry all the time and learning to smile back at strangers when they smile at you for no reason at all and not think it’s creepy,” she said as the crowd laughed.
Proceeds from ticket sales for the event went to Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that pairs adult role models with children who need one.
The event drew about 150 people, including Sheila Weidinger, head of sales and marketing at CamInstructor, which writes technical manuals for people learning manufacturing software.
“I think it’s extremely important to give back,” said Weidinger, who is also a retired high school teacher and attended Pitch In! to learn about how organizations could use her help.
“It’s great that these organizations are willing to come out and tell people about their causes because there’s so many. A lot of the time people don’t really know how one could help.”
It’s the second time volunteers have pitched their favourite charity. After the first Pitch In! event in February, 150 people signed up for volunteer positions with the organizations featured, said Flatt.
She is hoping to match that success in this round.
“The nice thing about volunteering is you’re giving but also getting back something bigger.”