Bay Area Consultant Mentors Underserved High-Achieving Students

Daily Point of Light # 7794 Apr 19, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Joy Sim. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Born in Singapore, Joy Sim came to the United States to attend college at University of California Berkeley and, later, Stanford University. After a brief stint on the east coast, Joy, who works as a management consultant, returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and has lived there ever since. Aside from reading, listening to music and playing tennis, Joy has been volunteering for the past seven years with Minds Matter Bay Area (MMBay) as a mentor, mentoring lead and now co-chief community officer.

During her many years as a volunteer, Joy discovered that mentoring and tutoring is her passion, especially for high school students. Today, her mission is to empower underserved but high-achieving high school students in the Bay Area to succeed through her work with MMBay.

MMBay is one chapter of a nationwide organization. The Bay Area chapter has over 200 volunteers and 300 current students and alumni. Minds Matter Bay Area focuses on helping high school students who excel academically but don’t have the financial resources or family support to go through the often-confusing college application process. The organization seeks to help these outstanding students get into the college of their choice — the nation’s most selective colleges — and to look beyond what they believe they can achieve.

In a three-year program that works with high school students through their sophomore, junior and senior years, the main emphasis is what happens on Saturdays: two hours of instruction plus two hours of mentoring. The instruction focuses on preparation for college entrance exams (SAT/ACT). The organization also funds students to attend summer programs at colleges they’re interested in to give them a taste of college life.

Joy Sim, left, wearing red shirt, with her MMBay mentee, center, and co-mentor, right, celebrating their mentee’s graduation from the MMBay program. /Courtesy Joy Sim

What inspires you to volunteer?

I have been volunteering since I was a teenager in Singapore, so I’ve been volunteering for a little over 20 years now. I have volunteered with many nonprofits working with children and youth, the elderly and the unhoused, and found that I enjoy mentoring teenagers the most.

Tell us about your volunteer role with Minds Matter Bay Area.

I started as a mentor with MMBay for five years, took on a leadership role as mentoring lead and now lead all Community teams as co-chief community officer (CCO). I help recruit MMBay volunteers and students, support our student alumni after they graduate, engage with parents and guardians, run volunteer trainings and organize socials and events. In this way, I help keep the community engaged and connected, and continue to support Saturday in-person session shifts and attend leadership meetings. Overall I volunteer approximately 40 to 60 hours each month.

Three years ago, MMBay had challenges with data management, which meant that simple questions about our community took much longer to answer. As a consultant, I took this opportunity to bring my company’s professional resources to MMBay, and helped build a MMBay data platform as a pro-bono project. This platform would allow volunteers and students to find information about each other easily, thereby sparking deeper connections across the entire MMBay community. Throughout the project, I served as an essential bridge between my company’s team and MMBay’s team, providing context, perspective and training.

Spring is our peak application season for both volunteers and students, so that is our main focus for the coming months.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

I was volunteering with a different organization about two years prior to applying with MMBay. Pre-pandemic, I was flying back and forth to Denver as part of my management consulting job. I learned that my client was on the board of the Minds Matter Colorado chapter. He told me what the organization does, but because I was already involved with a mentoring/tutoring program, I didn’t think much of it. Two years later at a college alumni event in San Francisco, I caught up with a friend who told me about MMBay and his experience as a mentor there. What sparked my interest this time was that the mentoring sessions took place on Saturdays, and hearing about this from someone I knew cemented my desire to apply.

A lot of other mentoring organizations met during the week, which made it impossible for me to volunteer due to my job travel. I like the fact that it’s a three-year program, so there is consistency in building a long-term bond with the students. The students know that you’re going to show up for them every week, build a connection over time and that we are there for them as trusted adults outside of their family. I was also relatively new to San Francisco, so joining MMBay was another way to meet new people. We’re a close-knit group! Having been at MMBay for seven years, I’ve found that MMBay is the most structured and well-run nonprofit I’ve ever been involved with.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

When I was a mentor, the most rewarding part was hearing about my mentees getting into the colleges they wanted. I loved seeing how they’ve grown and matured throughout the three years of the program. As a volunteer leader, I enjoy seeing the smiles on the students’ and volunteers’ faces at events I’ve helped organize, seeing the community come together.

I’ve found the impact on MMBay’s students and families the most rewarding — when the students’ parents thank us for the work we did, because they had no idea how to navigate through the college applications process. Without this program, these students wouldn’t have the opportunities to attend top colleges. They also become role models for their younger siblings, and end up returning as volunteers later on as they want to give back to MMBay.

Joy Sim, left, with her previous co-Chief Community Officer at Community Day 2023 /Courtesy Minds Matter Bay Area

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I have learned how to be a better mentor. My previous volunteering experiences focused on tutoring, but mentoring is different. Being a mentor isn’t about telling your mentees what to do, it’s about asking the right questions and helping them figure out their own ways to solve a problem. I’ve had to learn to step back and let them come up with a solution, and practice listening with empathy and kindness. I love that MMBay is a safe environment to learn and practice this skill.

I also learned how to cater to different learning styles, and to present information in an informative yet engaging way. This was particularly challenging during the pandemic when our sessions were over Zoom. I learned how to make sessions interactive, such as using icebreakers and breakout rooms to keep teenage students engaged.

Now I’m focusing on leadership skills and managing the various moving parts of the organization. I collaborate with different teams and support the operational aspects of a nonprofit. I get to see behind the scenes how MMBay is run so efficiently — and become part of it. As it turns out, there are many volunteers in the background keeping the engine running!

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Start searching for volunteer opportunities near you. See if there are any one-off volunteer opportunities to get your feet wet without making a big commitment. You need to understand what you’re passionate about helping – such as education, poverty, environment or social justice. Once you’ve tried out volunteering in different areas, you will learn what you enjoy and where you fit in, and find an opportunity that fits with your schedule. If you cannot give time, that’s okay. You can also donate and serve your community in that way.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

At the end of the day, we serve underserved, high-achieving students. We elevate them out of their comfort zones, empower them to get into the best colleges they can, and change their life trajectory for the better.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Joy? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Jarmila Gorman