Call us cheesy, but as we kick off the new year, we’d like to reflect on our incredible volunteers who brighten up our days every year—like our volunteer of the month for January, Susan Birnbaum. She has been a shining star here since 2015, volunteering over 150 hours, primarily for our Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips at our Mission Center. Program Coordinator Shelby Dale DeWeese has come to count on Susan’s enthusiasm and unwavering commitment on a daily basis. A dedicated volunteer, Susan goes above and beyond, not only supporting our students but also our volunteer community as a whole, as a member of the magnanimous Volunteer Engagement and Support Team (V.E.S.T).
When we contacted her about her nomination, Susan responded by saying, “I am truly flattered and humbled to be in the likes of such phenomenal people.” Take a look at Susan’s interview to discover more about her volunteer pathway to stardom.
What is one of your favorite memories of volunteering with 826 Valencia?
One of my favorite 826 moments occurred the first time I volunteered for a Field Trip. In Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips, the first thing we do is develop the setting for the story which will become a book at the end of each session. A student raised his hand and said the story should take place on a happy planet where the fun never ends; with this comment, he “had me at hello,” and volunteering for the Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips has been pure joy and a highlight of my week ever since.
Now, many Field Trips and some years later, my favorite parts of volunteering are the looks of engagement on students’ faces as they create their stories and the looks of anticipation at the end when the cranky pirate publisher, Captain Blue, gives each student’s story a stamp of approval.
Tell us more about your unique volunteer experiences
I’ve been a volunteer for years, seeking out organizations that focus on youth, creativity, and education. I am involved in several nonprofits that support projects created by students, nurturing their ideas and imaginations in the process. These opportunities encourage and validate original thinking and creativity. 826 Valencia is at the top of the list for me, for promoting these crucial aspects through a variety of amazing and well-thought-out programs.
Do you prefer pirates or pufferfish?
It depends on their stories and travels: I prefer exciting adventure stories, whether they’re from a not too cranky pirate or a well-travelled pufferfish.
Where would we find you when not at 826?
I am highly project-oriented (which is why I gravitate toward Field Trips), and having worked for many years as a Creative Director, I am happiest when I am involved in creating or making something. This might take the form of assisting the prop master of the San Francisco Opera by building sets for their Aria program (where youth write, produce, and perform their own operas) or knitting fish of every color and variety, which have found homes in and through 826. I also can be found participating in art shows, drawing on my background in art and Master’s Degree from Berkeley.
What advice would you give to new volunteers?
Engage and listen. Just as students learn from you, you can learn from them. Part of the beauty of 826 is that there are so many options to volunteer, in ways that both fit your schedule and strengths as well as fuel your passions.
We hear you are involved in an exciting 826 event coming up in March, can you tell us more?
In partnership with 826 Valencia, I am currently pursuing a project that remains near and dear to my heart called “Thank You Thursday.” It is a program I launched to inspire writing handwritten thank you notes and involves collaborating with outside creatives. This project has taken form as a workshop for 826 and has been enjoyed in schools, and will happen again in March. This year we are hoping to set a record for most thank you notes ever written in one setting, so we hope to have a great crew of volunteers involved!
Thank you, Susan for your energy and commitment to youth, art, and our 826 community—with volunteers like you (and events like “Thank You Thursday”) we know 2018 is going to be an incredible year!
Read more about our previous Volunteers of the Month.