My Non Profit Experience


Working with Teens in Public Service is a great experience for all the volunteers.

King County Metro ferried me to and from the Central District three days a week over the summer, driving me straight into the belly of a real Seattle neighborhood, from the suburban, and predominantly white, Lake Forest Park. After an application and interview with Teens in Public Service, I was accepted as one of about 50 high school students that would be matched to a Seattle-area nonprofit, where we were paid $11/hour. I was psyched. I got an email saying that I was matched with Coyote Central, and picturing an animal sanctuary, I checked out their website. It was not an animal sanctuary. Coyote Central is an arts day camp for kids aged 10-15, most of whom come from Capitol Hill, the Central District, or South Seattle. They have classes that range from video game design, to welding and break dancing. I am extremely jealous that I did not go there when I was a kid.

While the impetus for my application may have stemmed from a desire to beef up my college applications, the $11/hour was the icing on the cake, saving me from a summer of burger slinging or some other corporate suck. Money may have motivated me, but my first day on the job was not fueled by the $66 minus taxes I would be getting in two weeks. Coyote Central operates a pay what you can system, which allows inhabitants of the historically black Central District to take classes alongside some of the city’s wealthiest kids who are dropped off in Range Rovers straight from Capitol Hill. I was in awe of my coworkers on the first day, inspired by women who care more about their community than their paycheck. Handling stressed parents with ease, and disruptive kids with firm kindness, they showed me that non profit work is hard, but fulfilling.

Throughout the summer I learned some basic Excel work, sanded, primed, and painted lots of furniture, and helped out in classes, which usually involved me making art prints, sewing, or cooking, although there was some mediocre hole drilling. Coyote Central quickly became a place I loved, although this may have been aided by all the free food I got from the cooking classes. The kids I met are incredible artists and people, their creativity is unmatched by anyone over the age of 16. My work at Coyote Central may look good to college admissions officers, but to me it was the best summer of my life, where I was shown what passion and a love of your community can accomplish.

The reality of non profit work can be harsh. Good people often receive little pay for the work they do, and their love of the work has to outweigh the prospect of corporate money, because no matter what, Amazon can afford to pay more. To work with a non profit, you have to recognize that the work you’re doing will often go unappreciated, and you will most likely be underpaid. It is this reality that ensures that the people working with nonprofits love the work that they do, and would rather work there than Microsoft.

Now is the time to work and volunteer with nonprofits, if you are able. Nonprofit work is incredibly fulfilling, and can introduce you to a community that needs some help. The reality of adult responsibilities makes nonprofit work unappealing to many as bills grow to outweigh the importance of community involvement. As we still live with our housing and food paid for, we should all be out exploring and engaging in the communities around us. However, there are many teenagers who cannot afford to work for free. This makes the reality of nonprofit work even harsher, as those who do the work are often those who can afford to work for free or for a lower rate than offered by other large, more established for profit companies. This leads to a majority of wealthy people, especially teenagers and young adults, engaging in nonprofit work, which decreases the worker diversity many nonprofits desire. Is there a point where the value of community engagement is diminished when the only people that can afford to do the work are upper middle class and white?

I encourage all of you to seek out community engagement, whether it is volunteering at a soup kitchen on Saturdays, or applying to a program like Teens In Public Service where you are paid for your work. It is incredibly important to be involved in the community around you, and now is the perfect time to immerse yourself, while you still have your bills paid for you.