By Kimberly Kenner, Education Coordinator, CLE Austin
College Living Experience believes volunteering is an important part of a student’s preparation for success in the workplace. CLE also encourages staff and students to look for philanthropic ways to engage with the community. CLE career development student-volunteers experience the benefit of helping others while gaining valuable job skills of their own. The hope is for all students to contribute positively in society as independently as possible. The career development program at CLE Austin has established several partnerships over the years. The Central Texas Food Bank, Austin Humane Society, Holiday Inn, TJ Maxx, Walgreens, and Wheatsville Co-Op are some of the organizations with which we have joined forces to lend a helping hand. CLE Austin’s career development students have learned volunteering in the community is a mutually beneficial opportunity. One Austin career student, who volunteers at Goodwill in their Greenworks program disassembling and recycling computers says, “I get to practice working with others and work on implementing feedback while I try to help the environment.” His job coach, Susan Gurney, pointed out how she frequently sees students improving their soft skills such as communication, cooperation, and tolerance, “as they learn to work with people of diverse backgrounds and abilities.”
One of CLE Austin’s longest standing partnerships is with the Central Texas Food Bank (CTFB). CTFB is the “largest hunger-relief charity in the Central Texas area” whose mission is “to nourish hungry people and lead the community in the fight against hunger.” Many of our students enjoy the hustle and bustle of the warehouse where they learn how to sort, weigh, and package goods that have been donated to this cause. Other students opt to work in the kitchen where they learn about proper food storage, how to operate commercial equipment, follow recipes, and work as part of a team. A CLE job coach works alongside the students and provides in the moment feedback, allowing the students to make the adjustments in real time.
“Volunteering is important for the organization because we are able to help more people than we would solely with Goodwill staff. The money earned from the recycled part sales is put back into Goodwill’s mission of helping people with disabilities and disadvantages by providing education training and career services.”
– Pablo L, Supervisor, Greenworks, Austin, TX
EP, a CD student who volunteered for three months at the CTFB said, “I think the biggest takeaway I got was becoming more comfortable making small talk with strangers. I worked on hard and soft skills without the worry of commitment.” EP has taken the skills learned at CTFB to Russell’s Bakery in Austin where she is working as a paid intern in their kitchen. Russell’s Bakery is a proud advocate of inclusivity in the workplace and has been a phenomenal support to EP.
Latoya Thomas at CTFB said this about our volunteers: “College Living Experience worked tirelessly to create healthy meals to thousands of Central Texans per week. We appreciate them donating their time and talent to help others in need. Thank you for supporting the Central Texas Food Bank!”The Austin Humane Society (AHS) is another long-standing partnership of CLE Austin. AHS is the longest standing no-kill shelter in Austin. Jake J is one of several students who has a soft spot for animals and has decided to donate his time to this great cause. A minimum three-month commitment for two hours each week is required of AHS volunteers. Jake says he intends on volunteering more than that because “the humane society depends on volunteers to care for the animals, and without them, the doors wouldn’t stay open and the animals would suffer.”
I asked Jake to describe the work he does there and what skills he is learning. He said, “Aside from socializing with the animals – like walking them and playing with them in the pens – I am learning to follow procedures, accept feedback, and work on time management.” Jake said he knows these skills will help him in the future: “It is important for me to progress so that I can make my life experience fulfilling and happy. I want to have a career someday, so the skills I am practicing now can be applied in any job I have.”
Whether students volunteer at a food bank, an animal shelter, or a large charitable organization such as Goodwill, the impact is felt by those who need it the most. CLE is proud of its students who work hard to help others as well as work on improving themselves. We hope they remember the value these volunteer opportunities have provided them in their career development journey and encourage them to look for ways to pay it forward.
CLE Austin is incredibly thankful for the partnerships formed with businesses in the local community. We are always looking for suitable volunteer and work experience opportunities for our career development students.