Meets pressing community needs by mobilizing caring New Yorkers in volunteer service.

Equity Through Service Part III: Walking the Talk

Group of New York Cares staff giving thumbs up at Stand with Students volunteer project.

Before you can do the work, you have to do your work. - India Gary-Martin

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is the only certainty. Even while the coronavirus vaccine begins its roll out, COVID-19 and racial injustice continue to cast an oversized shadow on our lives, demanding an ongoing and evolving response.

We sat down with New York Cares Chief Talent Officer Nyisha Holliday to discuss how the organization is continuing to meet the demands of this unprecedented period.

A few months ago, New York Cares staff attended a day-long workshop taught by the Racial Equity Institute (REI), an organization that works with groups like New York Cares to create and sustain an anti-racist workplace and programs. Tell us about that training.

In one of our last posts, we referenced the internal work that we’re doing. The REI Training is not in and of itself the end-all-be-all, but it was necessary step toward having a common understanding and language.  When we look at the work that we do in our communities, we have to be sure that we understand the communities we go into. We have to make sure that the voice of the community is the guiding force for the work that we do. This also makes us accountable to the communities we serve. All of that begins with a fundamental understanding of shared language. It’s about how we approach our work.

In our last conversation, you mentioned New York Cares’ leadership and Board are undergoing additional DE&I (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) training. Tell us more about that.

The board recently underwent race equity training to establish:

  1. a baseline understanding of race equity in order to ensure a common understanding when approaching our mission
  2. the tools and shared language to have conversations as a board on this topic

Additionally, our leadership team has gone through performance management training through the lens of DE&I, which helps us understand our own preferences and how to adjust our leadership style. We have also articulated DE&I competencies – clear standards for all staff – for the organization. This is important because it’s the tool we use when we are interviewing and hiring people, as well as the tool we use to advance culture competence and measure performance. Measuring DE&I and organizational cultural competencies help inform how we engage with constituents, as well as hire a diverse staff to create an environment where voices are heard regardless of difference. And for senior leaders, a critical executive competency is to actively advance DE&I and get those principles into the work of the organization.

How does this internal work impact the communities we serve?

DE&I training provides a strategic method for us to look at our work. We may do work directed toward individuals but having an understanding of systemic issues makes our programs more equitable and effective. That is the whole reason we’re starting with racism -- it’s the bookend for a lot of strife and issues we see in this city and country. Racism is hard to see within our organizations. We think, ‘it’s just the policy or just the way we do things,’ but it’s those norms, policies and processes that are so common and can be exclusionary and exclusive for some people, especially when we go into communities that we understand to be traditionally oppressed. We have to be trained to see racism. One of the main things we learned from REI is to understand the harm in looking at racism from the viewpoint of oppression. ‘What is the norm that really advantages one group while disadvantaging someone else?’ If you are not trained to see it, you will not see it.  We focus on oppression because it hides the advantage. If the advantage is hidden you don’t realize that it exists.

How does volunteering contribute to meaningful change?

I believe that corporations and nonprofits are in a unique position to make decisions and change for our communities. We can lead the change through designing programs that shift the culture of our country. Volunteering with New York Cares is the spirit of our country and shows the grit of New Yorkers. It’s better to give than to receive. There are so many benefits of serving. It’s the people that we serve, and the relationships we make. You serve alongside people from every walk of life. And you get the satisfaction of saying, ‘I contributed materially to helping rebuild this city.’ It’s priceless.

I recently read that volunteering is good for your mental health. What are your thoughts on that?

One of the things that causes anxiety is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. Volunteering helps combat that anxiety, and helps you feel like you’re not alone. It helps make our environment and community better for all of us. Volunteering is a great way to maintain your sanity in all of the things that are happening. The media can tell a particular story, but when you are on the ground doing, you get to tell your own story. This ability to build bridges regardless is something that happens during volunteerism. We are gathered for a particular cause., and working hard for our cause regardless of our background, who we are, and our belief systems. There is a huge benefit to our own wellbeing when we give back. And that’s more important these days than ever before. When you see negative stories on social media and in the news, it has an effect on your soul. When you are giving back and doing, it moves the needle forward to help combat that feeling of hopelessness.

Join us in rebuilding this resilient city by becoming a volunteer or making a donation today.


Erin Hiatt's picture