- She’s a regular sight in the YouthCare kitchen, leading a steadfast monthly meal group at the James W. Ray Orion Center.
- As a fixture at YouthCare’s GED Program, she considers her weekly tutoring gig to be the “highlight of her week.”
- Behind the scenes, she’s involved as a member of YouthCare’s Board of Directors.
- Known for getting others involved, she often invites YouthCare “newbies” to the annual luncheon as a first step.
- She’s definitely not afraid to get a little dirty at a group cleaning project(or to have fun dressing up with her son as a giant bag of popcorn to collect donations for YouthCare at inome’s Summer Movies in the Park).
- An avid ambassador in the community, she advocates for YouthCare at every turn.
We’re grateful for her years of dedicated service, so we sat down with her to ask her what motivates her to be so involved. Here are Jennifer’s inspirational responses:
YouthCare (YC): Why did you start volunteering at YouthCare?
Jennifer Ting (JT): I had recently moved to Seattle and kept passing the bright green [James W. Ray] Orion Center building. I began to imagine the emotions these traumatized youth must be feeling: sadness, loneliness, shame. That’s a lot of baggage for a young person. It broke my heart. My son and I decided to cook a meal and just see how it went. I had butterflies in my stomach walking into the building that first day and was very conscious of being the middle-aged mom in a sea of tattoos. But the youth were not the tough kids I had imagined them to be. Quite the opposite, actually.
YC: You’ve been volunteering as a tutor for more than two years. What keeps you going back week after week?
JT: I just really love the kids. They are appreciative and sweet…and funny. We laugh a lot. And then once in a while, a student reveals something that just takes my breath away and gives me a glimpse into their story. Every kid has a story. My motivation has always been to help the kids pass the GED tests, but I have come to realize that algebra is only part of the equation. Just being consistently present as a caring adult is probably more important. We volunteers always reap so much from the experience. It’s a privilege to work with these kids. They bring out the best in me.
YC: What made you decide to begin a meal group? What was your favorite meal to prepare?
JT: I usually cook with another friend and my son. The rest of our crew is composed of friends and neighbors that join us as “guest chefs.” It’s a great way to introduce more friends to YouthCare. No matter how well we plan, there’s always chaos just before we serve, like on an episode of MasterChef.
In the meantime, the youth like to lean over the counter and ask, “What’s for dinner tonight?” One youth made such a huge celebratory scene when we told him that there would be apple crisp for dessert…it’s now on our menu every month. I love it when it all comes together and we are finally serving the meal and interacting with the youth. In the commotion of lunging past one another looking for more ranch dressing or running to the oven for a vegetarian option, I’ll overhear a friend of mine affectionately calling out to a youth,”What can I get you, honey?” as if it were her own kid. It feels good. After all, these are our kids.
YC: What has been your favorite “volunteer moment”– the moment that you think of when you need some motivation or inspiration to keep serving?
JT: I watched heartwarming interaction take place between a youth who had recently completed his GED and was studying for his college placement exams and another youth who was struggling. They didn’t really have much in common, but the graduate was mentoring the other one, strategizing ways to help him study more efficiently. It was cool to see him use his new found confidence to “give back” and empower another student.
YC: What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering to convince them to begin volunteering with YouthCare?
The unique thing about YouthCare is that there are so many different ways to get involved. You can cook a meal, tutor, host a clothing or fundraising drive, or be part of a work crew at a shelter. There’s the extra benefit of being able to meet other like-minded people while you work. The Volunteer Coordinator, Randi, can put you on an email list called “The Incredibles,” and you will be contacted when they need help with a project. That’s a good way to start if you want to dip your toe in. Of course, I recommend just plunging in!
To learn more about getting involved as a YouthCare volunteer, check out our volunteer opportunities here.