In July 2003, Sona Shah committed one additional year of her life to full-time community service as an AmeriCorps* VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) with barely livable allowance after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in China for over a year, teaching English. She chose SAHELI, an 11-year-old-all-volunteer, support, and advocacy organization for underserved Asian victims of domestic violence in Austin, Texas for her community service.
Community needs and solution: As an all-volunteer organization, volunteer recruitment, training and coordination is extremely important to SAHELI. Equally important and crucial to SAHELI’s mission is community education and outreach. Sona Shah met this need as SAHELI’s Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator. During her VISTA year, Sona has coordinated 30 information booths, 9 educational workshops, 6 book/film discussions, 1 radio program, and publication of several articles in various community newsletters. She has organized 3 new volunteer orientation sessions attended by 48 people, collected their interests and connected them with matching teams. Sona has also coordinated SAHELI’s major community fundraiser, a walk that mobilized approximately 100 walkers and raised $12,000 from the community.
Connection building: As the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, Sona has built connections with numerous community organizations, businesses, non-profit agencies, university departments and professors, student organizations, churches, radio, TV, newspapers, and individuals. She has identified potential volunteers, translators and interpreters for SAHELI. She has participated in several coalitions of non-profits that collectively build solutions to common problems.
Ongoing involvement: Sona is extremely dedicated and organized. In addition to volunteering with SAHELI as a VISTA, Sona is also a founding member of the Post Collective, a grassroots organization, focusing on mobilizing Asian American youth. Sona and her team organized a summer youth conference that took a year of planning and long hours. After finishing her VISTA term, Sona continues to volunteer as a member of the SAHELI Board of Directors while working as SafePlace as the Executive Assistant.
Impact: Because of Sona’s outreach efforts, the number and diversity of SAHELI’s active volunteers have doubled and the number of calls to the SAHELI help line has increased by 35%. Sona’s efforts doubled SAHELI’s supporter base and won SAHELI two more visible to the community. Sona’s organizational skills and quiet sense of humor put new members at ease and attracted them to SAHELI. Her ability to understand and appreciate the strengths of each volunteer and listen to their needs made them effective team players.
Innovation: Sona has taken the initiative to find resources useful to SAHELI’s mission, enhanced internal documentation, improved and streamlined volunteer orientation. Sona has made SAHELI’s website more attractive and usable. She has helped translate domestic violence literature into Chinese. She has directed student interns in their volunteering. Sona has also taken initiative to organize a Board retreat for SAHELI’s Board development and strategic planning and trained SAHELI’s new staff about SAHELI’s outreach methods.