Volunteer Spotlight

Meet Volunteer Jenice – Math Tutor

Jeniece full sideCEO: Hello Jen!

Hi, I’m Jen.  I think math is neat and I want others to think so too.  

What prompted you to volunteer with CEO?

I like the idea of giving back.  My education has helped me achieve many of my goals and I want to help provide some of these opportunities to others.

Do you have any special skills or interests that you would like to incorporate into your volunteer work?  OR, if you have been volunteering for a while:  Have you found a way to incorporate your special skills or interests into your volunteer work?

I think that my interest and enthusiasm for the topics I tutor helps me in my volunteer work.

What do you hope to gain by working with CEO?

The ability to contribute to my community in a meaningful way that utilizes my skill set.

What do you hope to contribute (to the clients or program) by working with CEO?

I hope to contribute to the clients confidence and pride in their scholastic achievements and, of course, improved math skills.  For CEO, I hope to be a valuable resource.

What advice would you like to give to the clients or other volunteers?

For other volunteers – Not all help is helpful, stay in your skill set.  Treat everyone with respect i.e. don’t condescend.  To the clients – success is a combination of hard work and opportunity, CEO is an opportunity it’s up to you to do the work.

Meet Volunteer Rebecca – Reading & Literacy

RebeccaCEO: “Rebecca – tell us a little about yourself.”

Rebecca: “I grew up in New York City, but love living in the West.  I love reading novels and essays, hiking, biking, baking bread, and singing choral music.  I really enjoy Denver, especially the bicycle share program.”

CEO: “What prompted you to volunteer with CEO?”

Rebecca: “I was looking for an opportunity to work closely with other people in a teaching or mentoring capacity and CEO seemed like a perfect way to connect with people in need of help mastering reading and literacy skills.”

CEO: Do you have any special skills or interests that you would like to incorporate into your volunteer work?  OR, if you have been volunteering for a while:  Have you found a way to incorporate your special skills or interests into your volunteer work?

Rebecca: “I would love to get more involved with CEO’s personal finance training.”

CEO: “What do you hope to gain by working with CEO?”

Rebecca: “A personal connection to the students and experience teaching reading and literacy skills.”

CEO: “What do you hope to contribute (to the clients or program) by working with CEO?”

Rebecca: “Greater comfort reading and writing, familiarity with basic grammatical concepts, and confidence in their own intelligence and capacity for learning.”

CEO: “What advice would you like to give to the clients or other volunteers?”

Rebecca: “Be patient!  Advice that applies to most people in most situations.”

Meet Volunteer Lauren – CEO Client Tutor

“I started with CEO a couple of years ago to fulfill a service learning requirement through Regis University. After the semester ended, I realized I enjoyed working with the clients at CEO and continued tutoring. I’ve always enjoyed numbers and have fun working with the guys on their math skills.

I feel I consistently get more out of each tutoring session than I give the students. Each session I try to give clients tips and pointers to continue studying on their own, and try to give them real life meaning to all the numbers. Frequently I will phrase math questions in terms of money or try to apply it to their jobs.

It’s rewarding to see the work and effort clients are willing to put into studying for the GED or working on increasing their math skill level when they have numerous other challenges and problems to think about. Though clients frequently turnover, being able to establish some connection with clients for a few weeks keeps me coming back!”

Meet Regis Student Volunteer Trio

by Vanessa Montano – CEO Program Director

Montano, Vanessa

… Advice offered for future Student Volunteers 

VANESSA:  What lessons have you taken away from your time with CEO?

ELLEN:  I have learned that ex-convicts are simply just people. I have humbled myself by working with them. It has made me see everyone deserves a second chance. We shouldn’t judge them by their experiences. It doesn’t mean that they are bad people and it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t live and learn in our society. I have seen how hard the transition is from prison to the real world. It has helped me and inspired me in my own education. I have learned so much from CEO I can’t put it into words.

KATIE:   It has broken my stereotype of ex-felons. I always thought, “They are where they are because they deserve it,” but they are good people and I have had to rethink. I understand their struggle of getting back into society. Society can be callous towards ex-offenders. I feel like CEO has really shown me a different side.

KRISTEN:  I am thinking about doing something in criminal rehabilitation. CEO has mostly taught me how service works. I feel like too often people are on two different sides of the spectrum. There are people who feel really bad for clients, and there are those who believe they made their own poor decisions. I feel like I am right in the middle of that. They made choices that put them there, but we do not know what their lives were like before that. It helped me understand my role in service. I am there to help them not to accuse them of anything or feel bad for them.

VANESSA:  Any words of advice for future Regis Students or volunteers?

ELLEN:  Just be as open and honest as you can. While you are serving, do it with your head and heart and you will get the most out of it. Be open to new experiences and get to know the clients on more of a personal level and you will grow the most in your experience. Also, don’t leave your personality at the door.

KATIE:  Confidence! If you don’t know what you’re doing ask, people will tell you. Clients have taught me math. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know the answer. It is part of making the relationship. Also, don’t go in just to tutor. Go to get to know people. When you are gone, all that is left is the relationship.

KRISTEN:   Be open to making connections. Come in confident about what you are doing and enthusiastic and things will go a lot better. Don’t be hesitant about what you’re doing.

VANESSA:  Finally, you are all working on a spring project that involves giving a presentation to our clients on the importance of higher education. Tell me about that.

ELLEN:  It was Kristin’s idea. We were talking about what would be most beneficial to them and where we can connect with them on a more personal level. Higher education is something we are passionate about. We all come from different backgrounds but we all have education in common. It would bring a lot of self-confidence and self-worth to their lives.

KATIE:  Kristen told me about it in class and I thought it was a great idea. Sometimes I’m asked, “Do you go to college?” When you have a higher goal after the GED it opens so many possibilities. It is exciting when you are accepted. It gives them the opportunity to take something they are passionate about and live out their lives doing it.

KRISTEN:   Many of the clients have the mentality that they will just get their GED. They might think it is a little pointless. If they had another goal in mind, it might help them. It is hard to get a job when you just have a high school diploma or GED, and even harder when you also have a felony. It might help employers decide to give them chance if they know they have higher education.

Meet Volunteer Rick Healey

rick healey“I was born and raised in the Chicago area and attended the University of Illinois. I moved to the Denver area about 20 years ago and have no intention of leaving. I love Colorado.  I ‘m currently a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. I do research related to ground-water contamination.  My current study is looking at the environmental impacts of natural gas production in northern Wyoming.

“The best advice I could provide to perspective CEO volunteers would be ‘Go west, young man!’. But I would tell other volunteers that being at CEO is a rewarding experience. I enjoy working with people. I find that I learn a lot also.  And the CEO instructors and volunteers are a wonderful group of people!”

Meet Volunteer Craig Swank – Job Search

CRS Looks DumbOut on the Streets
CEO Clients and their Job Search Challenge

I have been volunteering at CEO since 2009 since I retired from work.  My primary volunteer assignments place me into direct contact with CEO Clients, working on their job search strategies, interviewing skills, and discussing problems that they often encounter during job search and conducting practice interviews.

Job Search in a Downturn Economy

So now imagine that you are facing a change in your own employment status.  Perhaps your company has downsized, or is going out of business.  Perhaps you begin a new career search while you are currently employed, or maybe you have just completed a new level of education, and are ready to put your newly acquired skills to the test.

You have access to career resources and perhaps you may be using an employment placement agency.  Your support network is firmly in place, including family, friends, and former coworkers and supervisors.  You are equipped with a solid educational background, and you have accumulated an impressive set of job skills over the years.  There are no negative marks on your work history or personal background.

So with all of this, and perhaps even more, you launch the search.  After a few weeks, or a couple of months you begin to see that it is not so easy—no so automatic.  The economy is down.  The competition is stiff – more so than you imagined.  You have attended job fairs and have witnessed highly educated, highly skilled professionals lining up for the same mid level position that you have targeted.

Your support network has spread the word, but true employment leads are hard to come by.  But you carry on.  You drive from location to location for your interviews.  Your agency has some leads for you to follow.  A family member has sent you a contact at their company.  You keep plugging away, regrouping each night in the comfort of your home, encouraged by your family members.  You will endure, and before long, will likely succeed.

The CEO Client Job Search Challenge

Now contrast your challenge with this one:  You have just been released from a correctional facility having partially completed a sentence for a felony offense, and as a condition of your release, referred to the ICCS program in Lakewood, Colorado.  One of the conditions of participation is seeking and securing productive employment from within the Denver community.

ICCS in partnership with CEO provides you with computer access – if your offense so permits.  You participate in a job preparation program entitled Help, Information, and Resources for Employment (H.I.R.E).  You work on a job search strategy, prepare a resume, and attend a “mock job interview” practice session.  You are good to go.


CEO Client Heads Out for a Day of Job Search

CEO Client Heads Out for a Day of Job Search

But wait!  There are a few additional challenges.  You don’t have access to an automobile.  You will rely on public transportation – RTD.  You need appropriate interview clothing, but you only have the clothes you wore when you entered ICCS.  You do have access to obtaining appropriate clothing from an organization in downtown Denver, but with the current demand there is a three month waiting list.

You have access to the in-house ICCS clothing room.  Hopefully you will locate something appropriate that fits.

It is early spring and the weather should be okay.  But it isn’t.  Today there is a large, wet snowstorm, followed by rain.  It doesn’t matter.  The job search must proceed.  You are up at 6 A.M.  You have work assignments to do at ICCS.  You have obligatory counseling and treatment meetings to attend.   Then, you set off towards the bus stop, down Kendall to Colfax.  Today you are targeting some food service businesses in Aurora, 15 miles across town.  You have job application quotas to meet.   You must secure a minimum of five applications daily – maybe seven – depends on your current job search status.

So that’s it?  Not completely.  Your work background is sketchy.  You have been confined for a long time.  You didn’t complete high school.  Your work skills are limited.  You have considerable gaps in your employment history.  You have employment restrictions.  No employment at large shopping malls.  You must work inside a facility.  Travel is not permitted.  You must secure full time work and if not, search for a second job to meet your financial responsibilities.

And then there is the felony.  How do you explain it?  And how do you impress the employer to select you over dozens of other applicants?  And yes, throw in the same down turned economy, the same competitive job market and there you have it.

Mission Impossible?

Well, so you might well imagine.  But here is what I have experienced during my short time with CEO as a volunteer.  In spite of everything I have described above – with all of these obstacles and many more, through the support of ICCS program and the CEO staff, the Clients do often succeed.

It is a difficult road to travel.  I have often imagined just how well I would do under circumstances evenly remotely similar.  But succeed the Clients often do.  Through practice, refinement, and perseverance, many clients land the job in spite of the odds.  CEO displays a “job success wall” covered with the names of Clients who have succeeded on job search.

Meet CEO Volunteer Alyssa – Tutor

Alyssa 01CEO: Where is your home Alyssa?

“I am a Colorado native – I attended Lakewood High School and continue to live in Lakewood, Colorado.”

CEO: What is your major at Regis College?

“I am triple majoring in English, Spanish, and psychology with minors in sociology and history.”

CEO: What are your career objectives?

“Eventually, I would love to teach literature at the university level.  This has always been my favorite subject and I think being able to share this with others would be truly amazing!”

CEO: How did you first learn about CEO?

“I first learned about CEO through a criminology class I took at Regis last year.  For this course, we were required to either do a service learning project or complete a number of small community-based activities.  I chose to do the service learning project, and, while looking through the list of possible places to volunteer, I stumbled upon CEO.  I read that I would be able to  tutor in English and reading, so I basically jumped at the opportunity.  After all, I would get to read things and then talk about them—it didn’t get any better than that!”

CEO: Can you tell us a little about your volunteer activities at CEO?

“While I can tutor in any subject, I mostly work with those who need assistance in reading and writing.” And what I find most satisfying about volunteering at CEO is when I have the opportunity to work with someone who has passed all the other parts of the GED and just needs to write a pesky little essay to pass.  I find it very satisfying fulfilling to help them clear this last hurdle in accomplishing their goal.  It is also fantastic seeing their writing and/or reading skills improve from one week to the next.”

CEO: Do you have a short experience or two that you can share with our readers regarding someone you met while working at CEO – that was memorable?

“Possibly my most memorable experience volunteering at CEO was working with this one person (I won’t reveal any names) who just needed to pass the writing section of his test in order to get his GED.  He was really smart and had sailed through everything else—he just needed to write the essay.  What I’ll remember most about him was his incredible sense of humor.  While it often took us off track, his jokes and commentaries always made each session interesting to say the least.  Every week, we would break down and practice writing the different parts of an essay using topics that we found in books or that I came up with off the top of my head.  Eventually, we were writing the entire essay in about an hour.

“He signed up for an appointment with me for the day he was supposed to take this last portion of the test because he was not completely confident he would pass, so I told him if he passed, he should just emphatically cross out his name, and I would know that he had finally overcome this last obstacle.  The next week, I walked in, looked at who was signed up, and saw that there were multiple lines through this person’s name, and when I saw him later that night, he came up to me to tell me that he had passed.  Now he is taking college classes in renewable energy (I think).  Though I no longer see him every week, I will probably never his dogged determination and sense of humor.”

CEO: What words of advice or recommendation would you have for others who might consider volunteering?

“The only recommendation I would have for others who might consider volunteering is to be as patient as you can possibly be.  You’ll work with a lot of people who are having trouble with certain subjects, so they might get a little frustrated at times.  You just have to be patient and creative to keep them interested in a subject in which they are having trouble and keep them on task.  While volunteering might be difficult at times, it really is a blast once you get to know some of the people with whom you are working.”

Meet Volunteer Jason Pranaitis
Workshop Instructor & All GED Subjects

Note:  After volunteering at CEO Jason eventually was hired to join the CEO instructional staff.

JASON PAfter earning my Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education, I began my early career as a Preschool Teacher with the Head Start program.   Not only am I currently in the process of furthering my education at Metro State, but I also sing in their choir.  On the weekends, you’ll find me on the sidelines of the local soccer fields, working as a youth soccer referee.  I continue to be active in my church.  And, as a result of my dedicated volunteer work with CEO, I now am a CEO staff member, teaching GED students two evenings a week at the Jefferson High School location.

I started volunteering many years ago with the Denver Rescue Mission.  This work eventually led into a staff position with the Rescue Mission as a GED instructor.  After 3 years working there, I made the decision to return to school to further my own education in the technological and mathematical areas.  Because of my varying school schedule, I decided to seek out volunteer opportunities, and found several programs listed on the Colorado Department of Education website (www.cde.state.co.us).  I inquired and received a call from Jessica Beckman detailing the opportunities with CEO.

A Rewarding Experience

I am able to do what I enjoy most in the teaching arena: instill a love of learning.  When I encounter a person who has struggled, but because of our work together, has come to see learning not just as a possible endeavor, but as a meaningful activity, this is when I experience the biggest reward as an educator.  Finding ways to make education relevant to each individual student’s life, and witnessing a student’s realization that their life can actually become better through education has become my personal passion.

Biggest Challenge

I still continue to struggle with identifying and understanding the available resources to assist the students who suffer with severe learning disabilities.  These students face extreme challenges, and my hope is that they, too, will come to a place where learning makes a difference in their lives.

Advice for Others Considering Volunteering at CEO

You can’t sit back and wait for student to figure out they need you.  I learned early on that I had to be the one to take the initiative, because in this relationship, the student is the vulnerable one.  A tutor must be willing to step in and engage with the student.

Meet Volunteer Jessica McKee – Budget Workshop

Jessica VolunteerJessica lives a busy life as a student, a mother, and an educator, someone we can all relate to here at ICCS. When Jessica McKee first heard of CEO, she hoped to become part of the organization. She has now taken on the task of teaching our Budget Workshop and has become a wonderful asset to CEO.

Jessica grew up in North Carolina. After graduating high school, she decided to roam elsewhere, met up with a friend, and settled in Boulder. There she attended Naropa University to study Psychology. She is now in the process of getting her Masters of Education at Regis University where she hopes to find future employment in Adult Education. “At Regis, there is a mission to leadership and an emphasis on giving back to the community.” Jessica explained to me the importance of volunteer work and giving back at Regis. She is currently an Enrollment Counselor there where she works with adults who are interested in going back to school. She says it is part of the application process as an employee to write an essay about how her values align with the values of Regis. When I asked her how important volunteer work is personally, she stated, “It’s an overall feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction.”

Sharing Sound Fiscal Responsibility Practices

The Budget Workshop that Jessica has taken up is a great way for our clients to see the importance of spending wisely. She says it is really effective for the clients because most of them have never put a simple budget together before. While teaching the class, she has learned how difficult it is for clients to be hopeful and have a job that helps support their families. This is where she relates to them the most. As a mom she understands the importance of family, and says she can relate to the many clients who have children and are doing their best to support them. Nonetheless Jessica is hopeful that the program is helping.

To date Jessica lives with her three year old daughter Adelia, and is a recent newlywed! She enjoys outdoor activities with her family, and has recently conquered a marathon. She also runs the Bolder Boulder every year. In the future, Jessica sees herself being a GED teacher at community college, or in a higher education setting. When I asked her if she had any advice for future volunteers, she replied, “Really get to know the clients. You think you have an idea about who they are, but on a more humanistic level you will find you share common traits. You can set strong boundaries while still forming a good relationship.”

Meet Volunteer Amanda Jesse Williams
Tutor and Grant Writing

VOL AMANDA JESSE WILLIAMSI first learned of CEO when I came across their website while searching for volunteer opportunities in the area.  I was immediately drawn to CEO because of my background in education and the variety of ways that one could become involved in supporting the organization.

I’m originally from Pueblo, Colorado, but have lived in the Denver area for many years now.  In 2009, I graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a B.A. in history and elementary education.  I’m currently using my degree to work with young children at a child care center and am preparing to begin work on an M.A.in Early Childhood Special Education through the University of Northern Colorado.  When I’m not busy with work or school, I enjoy hunting for one-of- a -kind finds at local thrift stores and cooking with my husband.

Fulfilling Challenges

Tutoring is so fulfilling because it gives me a chance to interact with students and be a part of their academic and personal growth.  Grant writing on the other hand enables me to give back to CEO in a meaningful way a few minutes at a time and without having a structured time commitment.  It’s really the perfect volunteer opportunity for people with difficult schedules.

The Appeal of CEO Volunteering

It gives me the most wonderful feeling to see a student take pride in his or herself because of something they’ve accomplished during our session together.  It also gives me a sense of pride to know that I’ve played a part in helping someone further build their self-confidence through success in education.  Plus, the ample appreciation shown to volunteers by the awesome CEO staff members makes me believe that my work is valued.

The material on the GED is very challenging and there may be times when you find yourself stumped while helping a student.  That’s okay!  On frequent occasions, I’ve found myself demonstrating to a student how to problem solve through material by using the available resources because I wasn’t certain of an answer.  In a way, I think this can be valuable too because it teaches students good study skills that they can use when working independently.

A Favorite CEO Experience

Some of my favorite experiences at CEO have been when a student walks away from a tutoring session feeling more confident about the material and excited to continue mastering it on their own throughout the week. Helping to instill motivation is important since real progress doesn’t happen overnight; it requires a lot of time and energy on the part of the student.

Advice for CEO Volunteers

Volunteering for CEO is an incredibly rewarding experience that I would recommend it to anyone who feels passionately about promoting education and working with people.

Meet Warren Rubin – CEO Volunteer

warren rubin vol“I taught in Industry, but I have no formal education in teaching.  I’m a software developer and I work primarily in web and Windows based applications.

Best Advice to Volunteers

“I’ve been the beneficiary of plenty of good advice in fifty-one years. It’s probably a tie between working hard and staying straight with yourself.  I volunteer because even more than I’ve been the beneficiary of good advice, I’ve been the beneficiary of help. Help is always in motion.  Help should not be static. You should not help me with the expectation that you’re help goes no further.  When you help me it becomes my job to help someone else.

Final Thoughts

“Something that anybody who has ever volunteered knows is that the people you are helping help you. It is definitely not a one way transaction. I’ve learned a lot here. I’ve met people I would not have met.  I’ve had experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.



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