Breakthrough New York offers both one-day and long-term volunteer opportunities for anyone to get involved in our community.
Volunteering is a great chance to make a direct impact on someone in your community. It is also one way you can support your local nonprofit. We spoke to Alex Huaylinos, who volunteered as an interviewer for Breakthrough’s prospective students, and Alyssa Moya and Melvin Nguyen, who volunteer as college coaches. They talk about why they volunteer with Breakthrough and the impact a volunteer can make with a short or long-term commitment.
How did you get involved with Breakthrough New York?
Alyssa: I got involved through my fiancée, who worked for Breakthrough at the time. He explained the college coach process, that I’d be matched with the students, and then the students and I would meet at times that worked for us. I thought it was a perfect long-term opportunity because it was flexible. I have a very busy schedule as a social worker, but I knew that I would be able to work with the student and build a real connection over time.
Alex: [Through] my mutual connection Jonathan, who works at Breakthrough. Volunteering has always had a special place in my heart; it’s always been important to give back to the New York City community. I grew up in New York and I had a lot of the same difficulties [as Breakthrough students] traversing the education system. That aspect of Breakthrough’s mission really resonated with me.
Melvin: I got involved in the senior year of high school. I was a college access mentor [with Breakthrough]. After I finished a year, I decided to sign on as a college coach. There’s still a lot of knowledge that I can provide, and also things that I can learn from people by being a volunteer.
What appealed to you about volunteering with Breakthrough?
Alyssa: [What] really appealed to me was being a support person for somebody in college. I was a first-generation student myself going into college, and it took a while for me to find that support within the university.
Alex: It’s hard to navigate [the education system], whether you’re a first generation American, or second generation or third generation. I could see myself having gone through [that] and can empathize with a lot of the students that go through Breakthrough’s program. That’s what really appealed to me about wanting to volunteer as an admissions interviewer.
Melvin: It takes one, two, three, sometimes four years, to really get close to somebody for them to share things, and for you to actually make an impact on a personal level. And I do it because I did not have [a mentor] when I was younger. There are not always resources for young people who are on new campuses. That’s the main reason why I kept doing it.
How do you feel like you’re contributing to Breakthrough’s mission as a volunteer?
Alyssa: At its core, it’s about empowering students but also motivating them. My student is very resourceful. We had some difficulties with financial aid. We ended up solving it – I give her most of the credit for that one – and I was just there as her support in that process.
Alex: From my past experience, having interviewed people, [I can] see what qualities can propel a student. They want to invest in their own education, they want something better for themselves. As an admissions interviewer, it’s important to be receptive to those qualities and not just weed people out because they don’t give a perfect answer.
Melvin: Breakthrough New York is building up [students’] web of support, and I’m one part of that to make sure they get through college and they’re able to graduate. It’s being that soundboard and cheerleader. And sometimes you need that, especially when you don’t have someone on campus.
What are some advantages to volunteering for a one-day or a long-term opportunity?
Alyssa: [With] long-term opportunities, you get to really build that connection and foster that partnership over time. With the one-day admissions day that I did, it was actually really nice. You have the opportunity to be a smiling face on the other side of that table.
Alex: I felt like that’s something that I could jump into right away. I thought it’d be a nice intro to understanding what Breakthrough’s mission looks like in practice. Getting a feel for, is this an organization that I’d like to volunteer for again in the future? You’re a great organization!
Melvin: [With a] long-term it’s really the relationship. You get to build something that’s really robust and personal. You get to see the impact you’re making. You get to learn a lot, and you really understand where they’re coming from, what you’re taking away from them, and what they’re taking away from you.
What have you learned from your volunteer experience?
Alyssa: The main thing I’ve taken away from working with the students is just how resourceful they are. [It solidified] for me how much I enjoy working with teens and younger adults. I do it with my profession, and I do it with my volunteer work. They’re such an amazing age group to work with.
Alex: Kids these days are so smart, I can’t believe it. I wanted to [say] “You’re all accepted!” This opportunity reminded me why I love to volunteer. It inspired me to continue that culture of volunteer work and giving back to the community.
Melvin: I learned that I like coaching. It’s a lot of reflection on yourself. Give yourself and the young person grace. Really [take] the time to develop a relationship. You’re not in it alone. As a coach, you are part of a community of other coaches and other people who really care about the person’s life.
To see a list of our current volunteer opportunities, visit our Volunteers page.