NCJW/LA and the Power of Empowering Volunteers

By Rosalind Helfand & Yvonne Winchell

On Sunday, February 21 at NCJW/LA’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Brunch & Award Ceremony, we were recognized as an “Emerging Leader” and a “Woman Who Dared.” Our journeys with NCJW/LA had begun over two years ago. Rosalind, a programs and policy consultant for nonprofits and government and L.A. native, wanted to devote more time to working on reproductive justice and other social justice issues. Yvonne, a consultant from New York, joined to put her anti-slavery protest literature theoretical work into practice by doing hands-on work that directly impacts modern-day slavery, also known as human trafficking.

Our backgrounds are different, but NCJW/LA’s work spoke to our common values and drew us in. When we first joined, we were testing the waters to see if this organization was the right home for our volunteer efforts. It was. We stayed and thrived. And we found friendship when we collaborated on the 2015 Roe vs. Wade Anniversary Celebration. For this event, NCJW/LA hosted actors reading the stories of women who had experienced issues with access to abortion and reproductive services. Together we combed through dozens of stories, reached out to co-sponsors, assisted with logistics, and worked with a multi-agency NCJW/LA hosted committee of dedicated, passionate women on every detail of this endeavor. The event was spectacular. And it spoke to the success of NCJW/LA’s model for engaging volunteers. Our friendship grew from our collaborative efforts through NCJW/LA, while as individuals we found meaningful work and leadership opportunities that have enriched us in immeasurable ways.

Yvonne Being recognized for our work on Sunday was further affirmation of NCJW/LA’s success. It was a testament to the way in which NCJW/LA grounds its work in cultivating community and reciprocal civic engagement, fostering individual agency that is the bedrock of a robust participation in liberal democracy. In a society that embraces a wide range of traditions and understandings, effective human action must take into account the nature of intentional behavior; NCJW/LA works through civil frameworks as the domain in which citizens connect through their sense of public commitment and collective action.

Our experience reflects those values. Yvonne’s work expanded to NCJW/LA’s Human Trafficking Outreach Project (HTOP). In collaboration with Maya Paley, she created the structure for the Eyes on Trafficking: A Night of Outreach events, and designed and executed a relational database to organize the event, empirically measure the effects of HTOP, and prepare quantitative and qualitative analyses of the project. For the Human Trafficking Annual Seder, Yvonne served as a member of the Program Committee, and helped to prepare the materials for the event.

Rosalind Rosalind became an active member of the Advocacy Committee, participates in lobby visits, will be attending the Washington Institute in March, and played an instrumental leadership role in co-organizing and serving as emcee for the 2016 Roe vs. Wade Anniversary Celebration.

Because of NCJW/LA, we have been tremendously inspired by these opportunities to collaborate with a wide variety of groups and individuals, whose interests and values align with our own, as we have worked toward shared goals. We have increased awareness and built phenomenal grassroots efforts that enhance support for democratic values, tolerance, social trust and participation, emphasizing ideals and principles as well as real-life situations that directly impact communities and individuals throughout Los Angeles.

As NCJW/LA volunteers, we are empowered, we are family, and we are effective.