UPICares Volunteer Turns Mentor

By Erica Sobers
Jan. 17, 2018

Jessica Lay has been with UPIC since December 2015. In July 2016 she started volunteering with N Street Village, an organization in Washington D.C. that empowers women to be their highest quality selves by providing varied programs and services to help them. Since then, our relationship with them has transcended into an amazing partnership.

 In June 2018, Jessica began work as the Community Involvement Lead for UPICares, UPIC’s philanthropic initiative. Her relationship with N Street Village eventually transformed into being the Workforce Development Leader where she creates tailored training plans (including taking a pre and post survey) to help clients of women’s organizations, including N Street Village and Friends of Guest House, learn and practice skills needed to find and maintain employment.

I spoke with her about what the program means to her, the importance of community involvement, and how this role has work has helped her grow.

You started volunteering with N Street Village in 2016 and you have helped it grow into a wonderful “partnership” within UPIC. What about N Street Village appealed to you?

N Street Village was actually introduced to me by Mary [CEO of UPIC Health] when I came to her with the idea to organize a donation drive for feminine hygiene products, which turned into also serving a meal at the village’s night shelter. I remember being so impressed and energized after touring the organization. Everyone on staff is very clearly passionate about their work. They do so much to support the women that come to their door, anything from providing mental healthcare to dental work. It felt like the perfect place to start a volunteer partnership. After my first time volunteering, I knew it would continue to hold a special place in my heart.

What about this work is rewarding for you?

I fully believe that the workforce development program will be beneficial to clients of these organizations. Not only does the program aid in skill development, [but] it can also be used as a resume builder. This is especially important for people who have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time- for example, those who have experienced homelessness or incarceration. It’s rewarding to me to be able to pass along the skills I’ve learned over time and use them to help others.

What has been your favorite lesson to date? Why?

I have two that I can think of. I close out the program with a session on self-care. Everybody has their own idea of what self-care is, and some people aren’t very big on it. It’s a huge thing for me and I could probably talk about it all day, given the chance. I remember having such a great, out-of-box discussion with the women at N Street [Village] on what self-care means to different people. That’s what I really love most about these lessons; being able to hear individual stories, experiences, and perceptions. It makes the sessions way more interesting and I think it’s very beneficial for the clients.

The other one was during the first session at Friends of Guest House, which is an organization that helps women who have just gotten out of the prison system to re-enter the community. I had them practice their handshakes as part of that day’s activity, and I thought that while it was kind of a fun and silly icebreaker, it’s really important as the first step in any professional relationship to have a solid handshake. I liked the way it helped to break barriers and start the sessions on the right foot.

Often times this type of work is mutually beneficial. How would you say this role has helped you?   

It’s not every day that someone has days during their nine to five that they feel like they’re coming alive. I find myself buzzing with energy after every class I teach, and thinking of things to include in the next session all week. I’ve definitely bettered my public speaking skills and am more confident when walking into a room of people I’m not familiar with. I consider myself lucky to work for a company that values employees interests and do-good spirit.

Any advice to anyone thinking about volunteering but doesn’t know where to look or how to start?

When it comes to volunteering, I find that it’s very easy to marry your interests with what is currently needed in your community. Look on public boards like your county’s website or even Facebook. Ask friends and coworkers about places they may have volunteered before. Even if you just sign up for a clean-up day in a local park, it’s an opportunity to see what’s out there and how you can help in your neighborhood. I bet you won’t regret the time you spend giving back!

Author Erica Sobers has been with UPIC since its inception in 2014 and has had her hand in just about everything at UPIC.  She spends half of her time assisting patients through UPIC’s contact center and recently helped launch the move from one CRM to another. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @UPICHealth.