My Volunteer Day: The Cara Program

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By: Kara Fasone, Talent Developer

Slowly but surely, the holidays are approaching. Actually, it feels a little more like they’re barreling toward us at full speed.

When I think holidays, I also think: family, food, togetherness, and helping those less fortunate than I am. And although each of these things are still very important to me, I’ve lately found myself equating the holiday season less with helping others and more with surviving my hectic schedule.

While Black Friday steals help me nab awesome gifts for my close friends and family (even on my grad student budget), we all know there’s more to life than gifts. I can’t help but feel like I’m neglecting the true spirit of giving.

And that’s why this quote really spoke to me: “One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time.”

In mid-November, I was able to give a bit of my time to the Cara Program because Enova International was awesome enough to give me some time to spare. Through Enova’s Volunteer Day program, corporate employees are encouraged to take an additional day of PTO to spend time contributing to a non-profit they’re passionate about.

I chose the Cara Program, a non-profit with a mission to “unlock the power and purpose within our communities and ourselves to achieve real and lasting success.” The Cara Program offers skills trainings, boot camps, and job search assistance to help individuals find sustainable work.

Since 1991, Cara has helped people affected by poverty (and often the challenges of recovery, domestic violence, episodic homelessness, and incarceration) to get and keep quality jobs and, more importantly, rebuild hope, self-esteem and opportunity for themselves and their families in the process.

I was able to contribute to the Cara Program’s mission alongside a group of my peers from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology through a class-driven service learning project! Our objective? Collaborate to create a 2-day job skills workshop that encouraged Cara Program participants to self-reflect and dive deeper into the areas of: self-awareness, self-esteem, and soft skills.

The entire process was energizing. Seeing the diversity of perspectives and ideas from my classmates as we developed a workshop that balanced key information, applied practice, and humor (because, what’s an afternoon without a few laughs to keep everyone engaged?), was a refreshing break from simply writing an unspeakably long cumulative term paper to round out the semester.

As a high school speech & debate alumna (and self-proclaimed public speaking nerd), I was able to leverage my strengths and facilitate the Day 1 Exploratory Session. Speaking in front of the Cara Program cohort was strangely familiar. And then I realized, it was because it aligns with a big portion of what I do in my job.  I love finding ways to truly connect with others and offer up unique ways of viewing problems and concepts that lead others to generate their own personal takeaways.

Speaking, storytelling, sharing – these are the ways I make an impact. And this experience has made an impact on me, too.

I’ve used my Volunteer Day for the year, but I’m challenging myself to find smaller pockets of time to continue to give back. I challenge all who read this post to do the same! Sure, we all have a never-ending to-do list that’s now being crowded with holiday shopping, cooking, decorating, (and year-end work projects). But together, let’s rise above the hectic holiday season and give the “gift of time” to those who may need it more than we do.