In late July, I experienced the proudest moment of my life. FNC gifted me with an award to be presented annually in recognition of my volunteer efforts, the “Zach Hughes Community Service Award.” I was floored, and honestly, am still in shock.
As I sit here at FNC’s main office after a successful first semester at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), I thought it might help others to list out some strategies that helped me to transfer from Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) to UNC; a world-renowned institution. I dedicate the following list of advice to the ten USLA teens I had the pleasure of working with this past spring and summer. You all impressed me so much, made an incredible impact on me and have my full confidence in starting your new journey in college. Jay, Yvonne, Sarah, Shaqui, Angela, Patrice, Dorrian, Kailaa, Zahira and Quanesha – thank you so much.
Seek out mentors and listen to them.
During my time at CCP, I actively tried to befriend as many professors as I could. Prof. Carolyn Birden, my Fall 2013 English professor, made a profound impact on me during my first semester. During office hours one day, she imparted some wisdom that caused me to reevaluate and change my entire approach during the short two years I had at community college. She told me that I was “scholarship material” and asked me why I didn’t have any volunteer experience. She explained to me how important volunteer experience is to scholarship committees so I made it my goal to find an ongoing volunteer position related to my major after my first semester. This goal led to me setting that fateful meeting on February 20th, 2014 with Claire and Jerry. Even after my single class with Prof. Birden, I kept in touch every semester and was able to get a letter of recommendation to UNC from a mentor who knew me as a student and as a person outside the classroom. We still exchange emails regularly.
Believe in yourself and get to work.
This is the simplest strategy but the most important. Without believing in my abilities, I wouldn’t have gone after a volunteer position on top of a full-time school schedule and a part-time job. If you’re too tired, nap and focus again when you feel more refreshed. Write down your long-term goals, break them into smaller ones and never lose focus. If you can’t make it to the office regularly to do work, try to find a way to get work done remotely. With determination and the right amount of effort, you can accomplish amazing things.
Talk to everyone. Build a team of friends with similar skills and interests.
In July 2014, after months of planning and tweaking by myself, Casey Levy volunteered at the office for an entire week which helped us to launch the new website redesign on schedule. I learned that so much more work could be accomplished with more man power!
I began to solicit the help of friends, family and classmates to help me with some of the goals I created for FNC. I soon received help from two classmates: Alex Millman, who created a custom WordPress theme, and Rilwan Bello, now the new Web Development Intern at FNC, who helped me fine-tune the new website that you are viewing today. My good friend Ryan Engle helped me direct and edit the 10 USLA interviews. And lastly, my younger cousin Emily Eltz helped me with the social media campaign behind the 2015 USLA GoFundMe. It is because of the collective impact of the names assembled above that we were able to accomplish so much during my time at FNC.
Mentor the youth.
When I started the Web Development internship with FNC, my goal was to create a brand new site for FNC and learn as much as I could about web development in the process. I never thought that I would be given the chance to be an active part of the youth programming at FNC. But that opportunity arrived when I was offered the job of being an USLA mentor, a position which ended up changing my outlook on life.
The position was to help the USLA students with marketing their annual farm stand. To do so, I developed a curriculum to teach the high-school seniors how to:
- Build a marketing plan.
- Create flyers to advertise the Farm Stand.
- Develop elevator speeches to promote themselves and the farm stand around the local Philadelphia community.
- Write social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
During this time, I became incredibly close with this amazing team. I quickly realized that a mentor role is a selfless position. I realized that if I was going to make impact with this young group of high-school seniors, I would have to make them trust me. To do so, I tried my best to come into each mentoring session with a smile, get to know their names as quickly as I could and to really get to know them by finding out their interests, goals, troubles, etc. While we only had 10 weeks together, I learned so much about them and hope that they remember our time fondly as well.
Pick a skill you want to nurture. Create a job for yourself at a local nonprofit in need.
After speaking with Prof. Birden (see tip #1), I scoured the internet looking for local volunteer positions. However, I didn’t look for just any type of volunteer position. I wanted to find something that would be beneficial to what I was studying in school; something that could augment my schooling and help build my resume in the process. Being a new Computer Science major, I decided that I wanted to understand Web Development far more deeply. That is when I found a “Social Media Intern” volunteer position on FNC’s old website and persistently emailed and wrote messages on the group’s Facebook page until I finally was given an interview.
Before the interview, I prepared immensely and came in with problems I seen with their current website and a list of things I’d like to accomplish as their intern. And the rest is history. I have learned so much about Web Development in the process but more importantly, was deeply impacted after given a chance to work in the nonprofit industry. It helped me to understand the importance of helping those who need it and become an entirely new, more selfless, person. I matured greatly because of my experiences at this amazing nonprofit.
I would like to thank the FNC team for putting together an incredible going away party, for the great talks we’ve had and all of the valuable lessons you have all taught me over the past year-and-a-half. I also want to give a special thank you to Jerry Tapley – for trusting me enough to give me complete control in building FNC’s web presence, spearheading the creation of the “Zach Hughes Community Service Award,” and for believing in me from the get-go. I will always cherish this gift, but especially the fact that it came from you.