Meet Volunteer of the Month Karen Sirker

How did you first hear about 826DC? What motivated you to get involved?

I first heard about 826DC through my former employer, the World Bank (WB), which has a community outreach program called “Community Connections”.  The work at the World Bank is to help reduce poverty in developing countries around the world.  Since its headquarters is in DC, it encourages its staff to volunteer in the metropolitan area and provides a list of vetted NGOs.   After spending my career working in other countries, I wanted to work in my adopted hometown of DC and with kids.  I had also been taking a number of courses in creative writing and loved how telling stories can transform lives.  When I saw the description of 826DC on the WB list, I knew that I had found a new home.

Tell us about your favorite moment working with an 826DC student.

Working with the 826DC team and the kids has been a constant source of joy and adventure.  Kids are naturally creative and it is pleasure to see how they respond to the 826DC program activities. So far I have worked with students in advocacy writing to create podcasts – from developing the themes, writing the scripts, choosing their roles as host and guests to recording the podcast.  It gave the students a great deal of confidence by enhancing evidence-based writing skills. They also shared personal experiences which other students in their class can relate to and bond over. I loved watching the students overcome their fear to record the podcast.  It really built their self-esteem.  One of favorite podcasts was on the pros and cons of having siblings. It is so informative, funny and honest.

What’s one unusual thing on your desk right now?

A very unusual thing on my desk is a book that I am reading:  Your Brain on Ink:  A Workbook on Neuroplasticity and the Journal Ladder by Deborah Ross and Kathleen Adams. The book is for an online course  that I am taking from the Therapeutic Writing Institute in Colorado. The basic premise is that writing has the power to heal. I am interested in using writing and creative expression to help facilitate healing, personal development, academic improvement and lasting behavioral change for kids that have experienced difficulties.

What are you most looking forward to in this moment?

At the moment, I am looking forward to developing my own 826DC workshop that I can offer to the kids on the weekend.

Any advice for folks who are considering volunteering?

For anyone interested in volunteering with 826DC, I would say to be ready to laugh, to learn, and to be challenged, surprised and inspired.  Most importantly, you will make a difference in many students’ lives whether through helping them improve their writing or listening to personal experiences and problems. 826DC has wonderful and committed staff and volunteers. When you are in class, it is team effort between the 826DC staff, fellow volunteers, the teachers and students.  It is a perfect creative storm.