Through the Eyes of a Volunteer: Union Workers and United Way Volunteering

For over 80 years, United Way and the AFL-CIO have collaborated on initiatives to create a more just and equitable society; a shared commitment to addressing food insecurity has been one of them. We recently got a chance to see their commitment in action.

On Saturday, May 13th, the fourth food drive of the year was held in Quincy, where approximately 30 volunteers from Iron Workers Local 7 gathered at Central Middle School. Local 7 works primarily in the construction industry, from putting up the skeletal structure of buildings to reinforcing concrete and working on bridges, facades, welding, and glass.

Despite the sun, these volunteers were ready to give their time and energy to help others without any expectation of reward. Their stories are driven by passion and a desire to make a difference in the community.

Sean Adams is one of those volunteers. He has been an instructor with local 7 for five years and started volunteering last year to strengthen his ties to the community. “Coming out and leading from the front is really what I am trying to do,” he said.

A man with a hat on stands holding a small alligator and smiling.

Sean Adams – Iron Worker Local 7 Instructor and volunteer.

While the thousands of pounds of items collected make an impact in the community, there’s another important story to be told about the human connection these food drives create and foster. For Sean, the attachment to social media led to a social disconnectedness and loss of human touch. Recovering that social interaction is one of his motivations to volunteer. As he says, “Coming out to face-to-face to see and talk to people from the community has an impact that goes beyond writing a check. Donating your time is rewarding”.

Sean is a very energetic and straightforward guy who walks the talk and is a role model for “the kids” gathered in the food drive. “The kids” he referred to are the young apprentices from the Iron Workers Local 7 apprenticeship program who came to volunteer at the food drive that day in Quincy. The apprenticeship program provides students 18 or older with the skills to succeed in their careers and lives. A combination of classroom and hands-on time, they can volunteer as part of the job training. This approach fosters human connection and encourages apprentices to learn about teamwork, leadership, and soft skills such as active listening and compassion by giving them the space to connect with others and help those in need. As Adams proudly expressed, “Seeing all these kids out here is really what it’s worth; seeing them out here becoming part of the community is worth it.”

The positive impact Sean describes is just one of the many benefits of volunteering in terms of human connection, not to mention the benefits it brings to mental health. Studies show that engaging in prosocial activities gives a dose of oxytocin, which fuels the “feel-good mood” we experience from helping others because this hormone promotes social behavior and bonding. So, helping others could be the medicine to counteract the effects of stress, anger, and anxiety, combats depression, increases self-confidence and makes you feel happier. According to the 40 volunteer statistics by Volunteer Hub, “96% of volunteers reported the action enriched their sense of purpose in life”.

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, collecting, and distributing food was the activity volunteers performed most. Food drives nourish a sense of purpose, belonging and meaning for those who are part of them. As Adams expressed, “I encourage everyone to connect with the community by donating their time instead of just having everything all around the money itself”.

Without a doubt, Sean’s perspective, that is at the same time his greatest volunteer motivation, led us to connect some dots between social interactions, corporate volunteering, and- young professionals.

These iron worker apprentices belong to Gen Z that by 2025, will make up 27% of the global workforce, according to the World Economic Forum, this is an important stat for the future of workplace. These young professionals have been immersed in technology since they were born and according to research, they are craving human connection in their personal lives. Also, experts say this generation needs to be trained in social skills more than tech skills, because soft skills like communication are holding them back in the workforce. And for many, their first workplace experiences have lacked in-person options over the past couple of years, due to pandemic.

Apprentice training programs like the one offered by Iron Workers Local 7 teach them to give back to the community and can drive meaningful connection to their communities and at the same time increase their communication skills. Also, it shows future generations the influence they could have on society.

A woman stands with her hands on her hips wearing a hard hat and tool belt in a construction site.

Krishaunna Baptiste- Iron Workers Local 7 worker for 13 years and volunteer.

Krishaunna Baptiste is the personification of sharing with others. Exuding positivity, Krishaunna has been an Ironworker for thirteen years, currently working with glazers and is one of the million skilled women in the construction workforce building our region. By the end of 2022, “approximately 7.7 million people were employed in the U.S. construction industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 14% of construction workers were female”.

She volunteers whenever she can. This is her 4th food drive, and even though she had a date mixed up for this food drive, when she realized it, she went home and took some food out of her cabinet to share with others. As she was helping to sort and pack food donations, she thought about her own struggles, “I know some of my family still struggle with the impacts of COVID, and I personally know when I am struggling,” said Baptiste. She always likes to help her local because “it’s a way to give back”.

No matter how small your contribution may seem, it can significantly impact someone’s life. As Baptiste stated, “Anything can help. Even if you have to take food from home or buy something at the grocery store for people in need”.

It was amazing to see the multiplier effect of union members demonstrating what a true sense of community is. Krishaunna, Sean, and the other Ironworkers volunteers are determined to help build better and more equitable communities for everyone. What about you? You may be surprised at how much it can mean to someone.

“The heart of a volunteer is never measured in size, but by the depth of the commitment to make a difference in the lives of others.”
— DeAnn Hollis