Finding Space in Our Society for Volunteer Work (by Guest Blogger Jamila Osman)

be proudI took Zapoura’s capstone class during my senior year at PSU in the summer of 2012. As a sociology major who had spent the past few years immersed in theory and abstract methods of viewing the world, it helped me create a praxis for working to improve my community. During my time at Parkrose High School I realized that I wanted to continue working with youth in an education setting, which is why I will be starting a Masters in Teaching program this June.

After my capstone class I began working with elementary aged students as an after school instructor with Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN), a city program that bridges the gap between community and school services for children in the Portland school district.

I have learned a lot about the sociopolitical role schools play in our society, and I have become quite engaged in the movement for education reform. I think often about how we can better serve students of color, poor students, students whose native tongue is not English. I think often about how we can better serve and support families and teachers and schools, how we can get our state and country to invest in schools instead of expanding both the military and prison industrial complex.

The truth of the matter is that volunteering is often difficult—there is no real space in our society for volunteer work. In between working and going to school and taking care of a family, what little free time we have is spent fighting exhaustion. Volunteer anyways. Stay engaged in what is happening in your community.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed. I feel irrelevant in the face of an only widening achievement gap, in the face of constant budget cuts, in the face of teacher layoffs, and irresponsible and reckless decision making on the part of political players (just this week the Chicago Board of Education voted to shut down 50 public schools).

But no one expects you (or me) to single handedly lead a revolution for education reform. We can, however, support the dedicated teachers and students that are already paving the way towards reform. When I feel overwhelmed by the failings of the education system I remind myself that for every failure there is a victory: after months of boycotting and protest by teachers and students and community members against standardized testing, the Seattle school board announced that the tests would now be optional in high schools!!

I’ve learned and benefitted so much from Zapoura’s class, and I’m sure that you all have as well. Stay informed!! Realize that education as an institution exists in a myriad of other institutions (ask yourself important questions: why doesn’t our state invest in schools? What incentive is there in funding prisons?) Support students when they speak up about the closing of their schools. Support students on your campus when they speak up about rising tuition and decreased student services. Support teachers when they strike. Make connections. Keep in contact with your classmates and most importantly with Zapoura! She is an incredible resource for our community.

Congratulations on your upcoming graduation. Don’t forget the teachers, classmates, and family members that made your journey possible. Best of luck and warmest wishes,



12 thoughts on “Finding Space in Our Society for Volunteer Work (by Guest Blogger Jamila Osman)

  1. Jamila, it’s wonderful to hear that after taking this capstone course you are continuing to pursue volunteering in the community and even altering your career goals. This question came up a lot in our class: how do we encourage others to dedicate time to volunteer when we are all so busy already? I think your story is a good example of how one can benefit from volunteering and open up more paths to pursue and possibly make a career out of it. I also agree with your thoughts about one person not being expected to single handedly lead an education reform. As one person we may not be able to change the world, but what matters is if you are able to help even one student become more successful in life.

  2. I really like what you said about “there is no real space in our society for volunteer work…” And along with what Krista said this is a question that has come up in class, and one I have definitely asked myself. Where do you find time? Especially when you’re going to school full time, working, family, etc. and you’re right, you do it anyway. I think volunteering is so important in many ways. Getting connected and knowing what’s going on in your community. It’s beneficial to yourself as well. I know through my volunteer work this term I have learned things I hadn’t even considered, I’ve learned things I can use in my future when I hopefully become a teacher. You don’t have to spend a lot of time volunteering, even just a few hours can make a difference. And I also agree that no one person can make a huge change (lead a revolution) but even if you make a small difference in one persons life, it’s worth it.

  3. I agree with what you said how volunteering can seem daunting with the so many other things that we have going on in our lives. But, for example, no matter how difficult it was for me while going to school and being a single mom, i was still able to do it, and in the end you feel better about yourself. You feel like you are really contributing and making a difference. And honestly, if i was able to do it while going to school, i’m sure that i can do it while i am working, or whatever it is i decide to do after graduation. I hope everyone else feels the same way and keeps continuing what they are doing, or people who haven’t yet tried decide to help out somewhere. It’s worth the time.

  4. I really enjoyed your post and the line saying, “volunteer anyways” really struck a chord with me. I have realized how busy I will be this summer and how volunteering seems out of the question. But, there is always time and there are always people in need. No matter how busy life gets we can still make time to help others. That message really resonates with me. Staying connected to your community is huge and I completely agree with you on that note.

  5. I am taking Zapouras class this term and I can honestly say that it has been very informative. I never knew to much about the politics that are involved in school fundingand that this is one direct cause for the opportunity gap. I knew that the gap existee because I have been working with youth for many years in a variety of settings. It is important to remember Margaret Meads famous quote “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thin that ever has” when we feel that our work is irrelevant and that we are unable to make change. Being committed to something as important as education will definiately inspire change.

    • I’m with you, Angela. This class has opened my eyes to so many educational issues I had never thought about before. Now I can see how relevant they are, even to those who are no longer in the school system. I may not be able to make a steady, weekly commitment to volunteering, but there are definitely times when I can help out an organization with an event for a day or two. And I can certainly keep myself informed about the issues and try to inform those around me.

  6. Congrats to the Seattle school board on their victory! I’ve been volunteering with SUN program too at James John as a class teacher. I love coming up with lesson plans for the kids and being a mentor to them. Great post & story.. and thanks for the great ideas on giving back to the community.

  7. Hi Jamila,
    Thank you for sharing you experience and how you have made space for volunteering in your life beyond the capstone course. I have also been very inspired by Zapoura’s class and throughout the course of this term i have experienced how I can incorporate volunteering into my very busy schedule. In the past I have wanted to do more volunteer work but felt I just didn’t have the time. I agree that as a society it is not a priority to make time for volunteer work when there is hardly enough time for everything else. However, this term has shown me how much of an impact one person can have in dedicating a few hours a week. I plan on volunteering in my own community after the term is over and continuing to make space for volunteer work in my life.

  8. Hello Jamila,
    I am currently taking Zapoura’s capstone. Thank you for all of your insight. I especially liked how you took the pressure off of volunteering by telling us that no one expects us to start a revolution. When I think of the issues at hand, they all seem so large and make me feel small in comparison. It’s great to hear from someone who has experienced volunteer work tell us how we can be supportive. Mentoring has really opened my eyes on how we can be a support. No, we cannot solve all of the problems with limited hours and resources, but the time we spend volunteering helps support a much larger network. Thank you for reminding us of that.


  9. Jamila,
    I truly enjoyed reading your post and can relate to it in so many different ways. I also volunteer with the SUN program at Wilkes Elementary School, and volunteering has been a great experience. I like how you brought up the Seattle school board victory because this shows how we can make a difference we just need to speak up and be heard. I agree with you in that it is important to support teachers when they strike to stay informed and make connections. Thanks for the post.

  10. Something that my mother has always told me is, “If you really find something important, you’ll find the time for it,” and time and time again, she has shown me that this is true. My mom works full time in a male-dominated job where she has to constantly fight for recognition and she takes the bulk of the responsibility in taking care of my family (cooking, cleaning, taking care of finances, attending my siblings’ school events, etc.), but she STILL manages at least 10 hrs of volunteer time a week. She’s a super woman and she reminds me everyday that it is OUR responsibility to fight for change.

  11. I can definitely agree with learning a lot about the “sociopolitical role schools plays in our society”. Before I took this class I was unaware of all the problems within the education system. This class brought up all the educational issues to my attention. You make a great point when you say we cannot single handedly lead a revolution but we can support teachers and community members. If everyone can lend a hand, things get accomplished faster. I will keep all your advice on staying connected in mind as I move forward and finish school. Thank you for sharing

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