City of Alexandria, VA
Volunteer Profile: Christine Coussens
"I like the fact that Human Services is trying to go beyond meeting the basic needs (food, water, clothing) to meeting the social development needs of the foster kids, and at-risk kids."
- Alexandria's Human Services
Q: How did you first get involved with this organization and begin volunteering?
I started volunteering with Alexandria’s Human Services when I saw a flyer for sponsoring a family, foster child, or elderly resident for the holidays.
Q: Why did you choose to be a part of this particular organization?
I have always been interested in foster care and supporting this effort. As the motto of the community outreach group (The Fund for Alexandria’s Child) says, "Not everyone can be a foster parent, but everyone can help a foster child." I like the fact that Human Services is trying to go beyond meeting the basic needs (food, water, and clothing) to meeting the social development needs of the foster kids, and at-risk kids.
Q: How long have you been volunteering?
Q: How many hours per week or month do you volunteer?
It depends on my schedule and what the needs are at the time. Around the holidays, I can easily work 8-10 hours per week, but at other times, I do about 2 hours a month.
Q: What do your volunteer duties involve?
Whatever I can do to support the social workers at Human Services! My primary responsibilities are to help the staff and the other volunteer members of the Holiday Sharing Committee to ensure that our foster kids, at-risk children and elderly receive gifts from community donors. To put this task in perspective, we had over 180 foster kids, 580 families, and 180 elderly last year registered for the program. Coordinating this effort can be a daunting task!
In July through September, I assist in reviewing and updating documents for the various phases of the program. In October, I help with the registration of the families. In November, I do everything from publicity; recruiting members of the public and organizations to sponsor families; and data-entry to keep track of all the families and donors to assist with matching donors with recipients. I also help the agency check with other service groups in the area to ensure that the recipients are not signed-up for more than one program. In December, I help with the distribution of the gifts. Finally, in January, I help with the thank you letters. The rest of the year, it depends on the need. We are just finishing a large campaign of obtaining furniture for kids aging out of foster care. I have advertised and searched on Craigslist for furniture, and transported the furniture.
Q: What is the best part of volunteering at this organization? What have you learned from your volunteer experience?
There have been two benefits: 1.) I have had the opportunity to see first-hand the wonderful work of the City’s social workers. Most residents in the City do not have contact with this agency, but the staff is very dedicated and do the best they can to meet the needs of the residents that use their services. I have also seen first hand the effect that they have had on foster kids. 2.) I have met a number of our older foster children and have a better appreciation for how far these kids have gone. The older kids are going to college, trade schools, or looking for a job and most of them have plans for their future. They have never ceased to amaze me. I came to help buy gifts for the younger children to bring the holiday magic to them, but have found myself drawn more and more to the teens who are trying to build a better life for themselves. Supporting these older youth as they transition, whether they are looking for a job or going to college or a trade school, has become a priority for me.
Q: What would you recommend for others who want to get more involved in the community through volunteer work?
There are opportunities on all levels for people who would like to get involved with the Holiday Sharing Program at Human Services. We need people to help by sponsoring a foster child, an at-risk family, or an elderly or disabled resident. We also need volunteers for our busy days of registration for the program and distribution of all the gifts. Check out alexandriava.gov/TheFundForAlexChild for more information!
In the non-Holiday seasons, there is a need for volunteers to help with fundraising for The Fund for Alexandria’s Child. The Fostering the Future Cruise, on the Cherry Blossom, in June is a massive undertaking and we need lots of helpers and guests. There is a foster family picnic in the summer where volunteers can help out. We also need support for our children aging out of foster care. These kids have different needs depending on their path—to work or college. Making this transition- securing furniture for an apartment, getting items to succeed at college (computer), etc.- without parental support is difficult.