Volunteer Spotlight: Olivia DePaul
YWSTL is excited to profile the work of Olivia DePaul, one of our most dedicated, patient, and engaging volunteers! Olivia tutors the young people at Marygrove Children's Home, a residential facility in Florissant, MO, for children who have been placed in foster care or experienced trauma. Our "on-call" tutor, Olivia deftly adapts to the needs of students who require additional time and support.
Read her answers to our questions here.
What is your name, where are you from, how long have you been volunteering for YWSTL, and what does your service involve?
My name is Olivia and I'm originally from San Diego, CA. I've been in St. Louis for 2 years now working towards my doctorate in Occupational Therapy. I've been volunteering for YWSTL for almost a year as an on-call tutor, which entails being available on Monday evenings for students who need last-minute help with assignments.
What first drew you to volunteer for YWSTL? What makes you stay?
I was so happy to find YWSTL because its mission feels like the culmination of my values and past experiences—from my work in mental health advocacy using storytelling to break down the barriers of stigma, to my position as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster youth, and finally to my commitment to not just give answers to others I am in a position to help, but to give them the tools they need to find answers for themselves. And, of course, I stay with the organization first and foremost because of the students and the staff. To be near such tangible resilience has easily been a highlight of my life, and it motivates me to continue bettering myself so I can serve as a resource for those around me.
What lessons have you learned during your volunteering with YWSTL thus far?
One overarching lesson I continue to take away from this experience is that you don't actually have to know a lot to be a good learner, and modeling what a good learner looks like is one of the most important ways you can help students succeed. I always laugh when I find out on Mondays what subject I'll be tutoring because it's almost always math and math is the one subject that, in the beginning, I said I wasn't really comfortable tutoring. But now, I wouldn't have it any other way because it gives me so many opportunities to say to the students, "I'm not sure how to do this. How should we go about learning this together?" Making myself vulnerable by admitting that I don't have all the answers shifts the power dynamic in the tutoring session and allows us to collaborate as peers, which is such a valuable thing for both of us to be a part of.
Share one memory from volunteering that you know you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
A memory from volunteering that I will always carry with me actually relates perfectly to what I mentioned above. I was having what felt like a particularly rough session with a student who needed help with a math assignment that covered topics I'm not sure I ever learned. We were using online resources to try and learn the procedures, but we were getting answer after answer wrong and I was worried that the student would feel the session was a waste of time. Eventually, we agreed that he would set up a session with one of the tutors who specializes in math, and I closed the session fully prepared for this student to never want to tutor with me again. But as we went to say goodbye, he said, "Wait, Miss Olivia, I'm still going to see you next week, right?" It really hit home that, even though we had never found the right answer, we had struggled and worked and tried together and that really counted for something.
Tell us one interesting fact about you!
An interesting fact about me is that I wrote two short plays that won competitions at my high school and were turned into full-scale productions. I've always had a love for storytelling!
Share any final thoughts.
As a final thought, I'd like to commend YWSTL leadership for successfully creating sustainable and inclusive programming on both the client- and volunteer-facing sides. When I first saw the opportunity to volunteer as a tutor, I very nearly wrote it off as something that I couldn't realistically do—I'm a grad student with little time, energy, mental bandwidth, and no formal tutoring experience. However, YWSTL has gone above and beyond to make this opportunity a reality for me, whether it is by offering training, flexibility, personal check-ins, or perhaps most importantly, by taking action to express sincere gratitude for the skills I bring to the table. I think others—particularly those in the research sector who are struggling to make participatory research a reality—would benefit greatly from adopting the YWSTL model for integrating community members into their mission who would otherwise face significant barriers to participation.