Each month, we shine a light on a Points of Light employee who is making a difference in their community. These stories of service highlight the individual volunteer efforts of our dedicated staff, what motivated them to get involved and how service has inspired them.
From volunteering to help kids to helping kids volunteer, Niki Huntsman has a passion for giving back. As the digital marketing coordinator for generationOn, our youth service division, Niki helps inspire and equip young people to make their mark on the world through service. Based in our New York City office, she runs generationOn’s social media channels, creates web content and newsletters, and manages the Youth Advisory Council and Celebrity Youth Ambassadors program.
Growing up in a family that embraced volunteerism, Niki learned early on the value of giving back – a value that informed her academic pursuits, and continues to motivate her work. Spending her days helping kids and teens connect to their power to change the world, outside the office Niki connects with causes close to her heart – particularly education, human trafficking, and supporting members of the military and veteran community. And, she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty for a good cause! She just completed her fourth Warrior Dash as a St. Jude Warrior, conquering obstacles and raising funds to help St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the battle against childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
We sat down with Niki to learn more about her experience as a St. Jude Warrior, and what volunteering means to her.
1. What was your first volunteer experience?
I volunteered with FACETS, an organization dedicated to helping families affected by poverty, as a “Santa’s Helper” in early elementary school. My dad served as Santa Claus to visit with kids whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them Christmas presents or get pictures with Santa. FACETS organized a drive similar to the Salvation Army Angels (get a tag with a kid’s name/age/gender/size and a few wish list items). Then, when the kids came to see Santa, I took photos of them on Santa’s lap to take home with them. Their parents would go to a separate room to pick up bags filled with clothes and toys for their kids, ensuring they would have gifts to open Christmas morning. I distinctly remember one little girl coming up to me because she was too shy to tell Santa what she wanted. When I offered to tell him for her, she said she “wanted mommy and daddy to be able to find work, so that they could all have meals at home together.”
2. What inspired you to become a St. Jude Warrior in the Warrior Dash?
I have been running the Warrior Dash for five years, and this is my fourth year participating as a St. Jude Warrior. In my first year, I was just filling in for an injured friend. But as soon as I found out you could run for a cause — specifically making sure kids get the lifesaving care they need without putting their families into crushing debt — I knew that it was the perfect combination of fitness and philanthropy.
3. How much have you raised to support St. Jude?
In my first year, I raised $150 and after last year’s race my three-year fundraising total for St. Jude had reached $1,235. This year, I set a goal for myself to raise $1,000, and I’m happy to say I exceeded that goal by raising a total of $1,125!
4. Are there other ways that you support St. Jude beyond the Warrior Dash?
I have contributed to other friend’s races (both the Warrior Dash and Half Marathon), as well as their Christmas drives.
5. What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned the power of giving back — your impact doesn’t have to have dollar signs behind it. Everyone has the capacity and the ability to give back, whether it’s your time, talent or money. It’s shown me that when you find something you’re passionate about, you’ll find anything you can to make sure people who need your help get the help they need.
6. What’s been the most rewarding part of this work?
The smiles on people’s faces when they realize that you’re not doing this because you have to, or because you feel bad for them. There is a human connection that no other interaction can replicate. The moment when you give something to someone knowing they will never be able to provide you the same service is hands down the best feeling in the world.
7. Has your involvement with St. Jude’s led to you getting involved with any other groups or causes?
Running for St. Jude led me to discover Chive Charities, an organization dedicated to helping the “underdog.” They primarily serve active-duty servicemen, veterans, and children and adults with very rare conditions that few, if any, charities cover.
8. Has your personal experience with volunteer service influenced and/or affected your career? How?
Volunteer service is what led me to pursue the educational path that led me to work for nonprofits. I grew up in a household that valued serving others — even acts as simple as rounding up stuffed animals to give to the children’s wing at the hospital. My parents have been lifelong volunteers and instilled that passion for helping others in my heart at a young age. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do towards the end of my undergraduate career, and the more I looked into my job prospects, the more working for a cause rather than pursuing the corner office appealed to me. I knew I’d be fulfilled working for an organization or company whose sole purpose was to help others.
9. What advice do you have for others who are looking for ways to get involved?
Find an easy place to start. If your office offers volunteer opportunities, join them on their next project. If your community offers park clean ups or other one-day projects, sign up. Most community centers and local schools have opportunities for individuals and families to volunteer — and you can usually find them online! If you can find something to do with people you know or a cause close to your heart, it makes it that much easier to put on the hairnet or pick up the garbage.
10. What’s next for you as a volunteer?
Now that I’ve settled into life in upstate New York, I’m looking to find opportunities to volunteer in my community. While donating to major organizations and causes is important, I think the most impact is made on the ground in the community — and I’m excited to get started!