Volunteer Spotlight: Maria Sherry Tan

Maria Sherry Tan is a mother of five and a Customer Support Representative with Scotiabank, one of YWCA Toronto’s annual donors. Maria has been an avid volunteer with YWCA Toronto for the past six years. We interviewed Maria about her experiences volunteering with YWCA Toronto.

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Maria sitting at a sunlit table with two of her students, a boy and a girl, both hard at work

Maria with two of her YWCA Toronto Homework Club students

What kinds of volunteer work have you done with YWCA Toronto?

The first volunteer activity was at the Women of Distinction Awards, which Scotiabank sponsors. For YWCA Toronto’s Women of Distinction, I have done things like sell tickets, manage registration and set up tables for the event. Then I learned about the YWCA International Boutique, where I work as a relief volunteer – when there is nobody available, they call me to look after sales, cash and merchandising of the items for sale. I have also helped out at sponsor appreciation events, movie nights, and other events throughout the year.

I have a certificate to teach English as a Second Language, so when I learned about the Scotiabank Homework Club at YWCA Toronto Elm Centre, I thought this could be a good chance to practice my skills, gain experience and spend time with children. I was one of the first volunteers when Homework Club launched on September 10th, 2013. It used to be from 4:00-5:00pm, which was challenging for me (I normally work those hours at the bank), so I was happy when YWCA Toronto changed the schedule to 6:00-7:00pm. My current commitment is from January to June.

Every Wednesday afternoon, I’m excited to go to Homework Club and see my students. I sometimes work with three students at once, depending on how many volunteers are present. When more volunteers are there, we work one-on-one with the kids, which we find is most effective. I spend a lot of time tutoring a girl named Jennifer, and she’s so sweet. She’s six years old and will be going into grade one this year. We have built a strong relationship, which is very important for Homework Club.

What do you get out of your experience volunteering with YWCA Toronto?

The YWCA is very close to my heart. I’m a single mom with five children, my own mom is far away and my dad died, so all the family responsibilities fall on me. My heart goes out to women who are struggling, because I am struggling too. The work I contribute to at YWCA Toronto gives me hope and encouragement.

It is very rewarding when children give you a smile, and parents appreciate your updates on how their children are doing with schoolwork. I think Homework Club is a great addition to the YWCA Toronto Elm Centre community.

Tell us about your experiences with YWCA Toronto staff and other volunteers.

I love spending time with Hodan, the YWCA Toronto volunteer coordinator. She’s a great coordinator who loves her job, and it shows. Her energy, her smile, her love for the children – it’s just infectious.

I also really connected with Melissa, who was the volunteer coordinator when I joined YWCA Toronto a few years ago. Melissa provided us with lots of options for our volunteer shifts, which made it more convenient for me to contribute. Everyone I’ve met at YWCA Toronto, from the other volunteers I’ve worked with to the parents of children that come to Homework Club, has become like a family to me. As an immigrant I don’t have family here (except my own kids), so this sense of community support is very important to me.

It really does feel like a family sometimes! When Jennifer turned six years old, Hodan brought her a birthday cake, and we had a little birthday celebration for her at Homework Club with all the parents and kids. I was very touched by the experience.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in volunteering with YWCA Toronto?

Just go and try it out. There are so many different volunteer options at YWCA Toronto. If you love volunteering, you love women, you love children and you want to learn new things, YWCA Toronto has everything you need for a great volunteer experience!