During National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting the efforts of several key UWGP volunteers. We hope you enjoy their interviews and are inspired by their service to our community! Looking for a new opportunity to give back? Check out http://volunteer.unitedwaygp.org.
Ginny Petrovek, Director of Rooms, The Press Hotel
When and how did you get involved in volunteering through United Way of Greater Portland?
I always knew United Way was a great resource. My dad was pretty involved when he was here in Portland, so I knew that would be my first stop for finding out what opportunities would be available in the area. I found out about Youth and Family Outreach (YFO) needing folks to go and read to children for Read Across America Day, and I thought, selfishly, that that would be super fun to do, so I immediately signed up. After having that one experience, I thought that there must be a way for me to do a little bit more. I connected with Karen from United Way and she connected me with YFO’s Director, and I started volunteering at YFO once a month.
It’s my favorite day of the month, honestly, every first Friday. I come in right when the kids are in their story time, and then they have an hour of station play where they can choose which area of the classroom they want to enjoy. I typically find myself with some girls in the “play pretend zone.” When I’m there, I can be an extra set of hands for the teachers. I feel that I’ve allowed them time to think about what their next lesson is, clean up and prepare for lunch, and set themselves up for success later in the day. And I get to have fun with four and five year olds for two hours. It’s just the best!
Tell us about your first day at YFO.
I was a little nervous on my first day, but it was so easy to just fall right in with the kids. I think I walked in, and all the kids gave me that “who is this new person in our classroom?” look. The teachers said, “this is Ginny, she’s just here to have fun with you guys today,” and I thought to myself, “yes, I am!”
The first day I just started by bopping around to the different stations that they had set up throughout the room. I shortly realized that some of the kids had just hooked on to me like glue, and we ended up following each other around. We did a lot of coloring and creative play. I don’t know why, but it seems that all of a sudden, when you become an adult, you lose your creativity and that sense of wonder. It’s so fun to watch and see them in their element.
What skills have you used while volunteering?
Volunteering has pulled out the inner child in me. I’ve always enjoyed working with children, and I did a lot of volunteer work along these lines when I was in high school and college. Honestly, it’s just an escape for me to have a lot of fun for two hours and read books and play pretend. I get to pull in this creativity that I kind of forget that I have until I’m surrounded by these kids. It’s great.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer? What motivates you?
This will be my fourth month, and at this point, all the kids know me and what I do. They get excited when I walk into the room, which is reason enough for me to keep going back!
When I first read at YFO, I was interested in doing it too because I was seven months pregnant at the time, and I was starting to feel like “oh my gosh, I’m going to have a child, I should probably hang out with some kids!” Spending time at YFO with these kids makes me so excited for when my ten month old starts talking with me. It’s amazing what kids will say and what they think. It’s a lot of fun to be around.
How does this opportunity connect with what you do for work?
Here at The Press Hotel, we concentrate all the time on the written word, with books and a literary theme all throughout the building, so this reading opportunity was perfectly in line with that for me.
In the coming months, once the weather starts to change, I am hoping to have the kids visit our property and tour the hotel. Perhaps, we could even pair up with our Executive Chef, Josh Berry, at Union to do cooking demos for them and talk more about the farms he works with and how he got to where he is in his career.
What have you learned from the experience?
I’ve loved having the opportunity to make relationships with the staff and kiddos at YFO. The kids are from all different backgrounds and have different experiences outside of YFO. I like being part of the effort to spend the time that they have at this establishment really wisely in order to benefit them in the long run. I enjoy working alongside the teachers as they pinpoint students who may need a little extra one-on-one reading assistance or attention. It’s nice to think that I’m playing even a really small part in their own personal development too.
What impact do you feel that you’re making?
I think that just coming in and spending two hours a month can still make a really positive impact in that little one’s life. When I spend one-on-one time with these kids, not only does it affect my day and makes it as amazing as it can be, I think it brings a little light and change into their world as well. They do such good work at YFO, and I think that there are so many more opportunities for myself and others to do more there. Whether it’s maintenance throughout the building or bringing fresh food over for their lunch program—there’s just lots of ways to help. I’ve experienced that just volunteering two hours a month. It doesn’t take much to feel like you can really make an impact. That’s what I’ve learned throughout the whole volunteer experience. There are many opportunities where you can go, even just for a couple hours, and really have a positive impact on where you are, and hopefully, in turn, you get a little positive boost too.
Do you have any advice for someone starting to think about volunteering?
Just do it! Stop making excuses. Stop saying that you don’t have time, because everyone has time. Everyone can put aside one or two hours a month. Definitely use the resources that UWGP provides with the monthly newsletters and connections in Portland.
For me, I knew that I wanted to do something with children, so it was so easy to get a couple different options and figure out what would work best for me and my schedule. Now it’s part of my routine! All of my associates know, too. They all know, it’s the first Friday of the month, so Ginny’s gone for two hours. I definitely want to bring more of that into the environment at the hotel. Many of our associates are very interested in volunteering and it would be great to really make it accessible to everyone.
Is there anything else you would like to share about volunteerism?
I would just reiterate to everyone that if you’ve been thinking about volunteering, just do it! I think I had put it on the back burner for myself for so long, and made so many excuses, and then working with United Way and really figuring out what opportunities were possible based on what I was really looking for, it became so obvious and easy that I could be involved in the level I knew I could commit to. I feel that for anyone who is interested in volunteering, UWGP can be a great place to start in your search to find an organization that will make you tick and get you excited!