All of the organizations that follow have been recommended by either The Community Foundation in Montgomery County, the Catalogue for Philanthropy or the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County. The nonprofits provided a description of their work and ideas for ways to help. If an organization offers Student Service Learning hours (SSL) or internships, we noted that under volunteer opportunities.
Volunteer Spotlight: Chanelle Broughton, Community Bridges
By Caralee Adams
Growing up in North Carolina, Chanelle Broughton had a mentor through her church who gave her advice about becoming a teacher. She says the woman was personable and helped her secure a summer job at a child care center, and the two remain in touch.
That experience prompted Broughton, 37, to become a mentor herself through Community Bridges, a nonprofit organization in Silver Spring.
“She showed me what my life could be,” Broughton says of her mentor as a teenager. “I thought I could be that for someone else.”
Last year, Broughton, who lives in Silver Spring and was trained by the organization to become a mentor, was paired with Taata Otop. She is 14 and a freshman at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring and came to the U.S. from Cameroon five years ago.
The mentoring opportunity is an extension of Community Bridges’ after-school program, which operates in 21 Montgomery County Public Schools, serving more than 500 girls from diverse backgrounds each year. The students are required to participate in the after-school program for an academic year, attending weekly sessions before applying for the mentor program.
“I love the fact that Community Bridges is all about empowering girls,” says Broughton, who works at Sandy Spring Friends School in Sandy Spring as assistant head of the lower school and director of the preschool.
Broughton and Taata first met at a mentoring group outing to Homestead Farm in Poolesville, picking pumpkins and eating caramel apples.
“We hit it off,” Broughton says. “We connected not just about school, but about life.” Over the past year, they’ve gotten together about once a week—going to Starbucks, taking walks, running errands and volunteering together. Broughton shared one of her favorite hobbies with Taata: making candles. Although the program didn’t require it, the two continued to get together over the summer.
“She’s fun, outgoing and smart,” Taata says of Broughton.
Each mentor pair meets on their own and also as part of the larger group of all mentors and girls (48 pairs last school year). Each month, the women and girls discuss topics covered in the after-school program such as identity, body image and mental health. The program promotes education and focuses on career and college readiness.
“Mentors are not quite a friend and they’re not a family member. They are in between,” says Eryn Downey, mentor and volunteer program manager at Community Bridges. “They are another person to advocate. The mentor can connect them with resources, internships or volunteer opportunities to help them envision their future and achieve their goals.”
Community Bridges hosted a visit to American University with the mentors and mentees last spring. Taata is interested in fashion design or journalism and has her eye on studying in New York.
Broughton says the mentoring experience has given her purpose. She says she’s enjoyed seeing Taata, who is reserved, come out of her shell. “I try to encourage her to speak up and use her voice,” Broughton says.
Although the program only requires a one year commitment, Broughton says she plans to continue to mentor Taata, always.
Taata says being with Broughton has inspired her: “I learned it’s good to be yourself. She’s a role model.”
Volunteer Spotlight: Camila Pinares, Montgomery County Food Council
By Caralee Adams
As a volunteer food security advocate with the Montgomery County Food Council, Camila Pinares connects low-income residents with resources, including nonprofit and government programs. The 20-year-old Montgomery College student educates people about the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and helps them apply. She focuses her outreach on Latino communities.
Fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese, Pinares works to help narrow the “SNAP gap”—the difference between those who are eligible to receive benefits and those who actually get them, says Allison Schnitzer, director of Food Access Initiatives with the food council. Schnitzer says Pinares’ volunteerism is particularly valuable because most of the eligible individuals who don’t receive SNAP in Montgomery County don’t speak English.
Pinares left Peru with her family in 2016 and now lives in Aspen Hill. She says she knows firsthand how difficult it can be to find available resources, as information often isn’t shared in Spanish. When Pinares had a baby two years ago, she learned how to apply for benefits and became a SNAP recipient with the help of training from the food council and Maryland Hunger Solutions. Now, she says, she’s volunteering to help others avoid the mistakes she made.
“I was one of the misinformed people,” Pinares says. “Now if I need something, I know where to go; I know what to do. I know how to advocate for others. I want more young moms like me to have that as an advantage, too.”
Pinares regularly goes to shopping centers to hand out flyers containing information about the SNAP program. She has created a bilingual Facebook page to inform residents about available resources in the community. Once they’re interested in applying, Pinares helps individuals upload the necessary documents to qualify for the program online. She recently helped a mother of two who was pregnant and had just arrived in this country to connect with nonprofits and obtain clothing, diapers and food for her family.
Since its establishment in 2012, the non-profit Montgomery County Food Council has brought together businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and residents to promote improvements to the local food system. This network has four working groups that address food recovery and access, food economy, food education and environmental impact.
Working to improve the overall system, Pinares also serves on the food council’s Food Security Community Advisory Board. She is completing her second year with the 15-member group, which provides feedback on the various programs and services in the county related to food insecurity. Pinares has shared her personal experience and perspective on policies with government officials. During the 2021 state legislative session, she testified in support of Maryland’s Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program.
“Camila is so passionate, motivated, determined and energetic. She is a fighter for her community for people to get the benefits that they need,” Schnitzer says.
Pinares aspires to be a surgeon and wants to provide low-income patients with affordable health care.
Volunteer Spotlight: Marcela Cámpoli, Care for Your Health
By Caralee Adams
At Care for Your Health (C4YH), Marcela Cámpoli provides behind-the-scenes support to help the agency reach out efficiently to older people so they can age in place.
The 48-year-old Rockville resident has volunteered on the organization’s board of directors since 2009 and became its president in 2014. The nonprofit offers affordable health care and support services primarily to elderly low-income Latino residents at its Silver Spring clinic, as well as through mobile programs and home visits.
“I believe in community health,” Cámpoli says. “The current health system is overwhelmed by bureaucracy and overridden by high-cost services. Having micro-practices that are flexible to serve the community is critical for a system that is sometimes inaccessible to many.”
Cámpoli, who moved from Argentina to the U.S. 16 years ago, says the C4YH model reminds her of how rural doctors in her home country would go to patients to provide treatment with little support staff and few resources.
With a bachelor’s degree in business administration, a master’s in health administration and a doctorate in health economics, Cámpoli shares her knowledge with C4YH— particularly on quality improvement and management. She works full time as director of the Institute for Credentialing Research and Quality Management at the American Credentialing Center of the American Nurses Association in Silver Spring.
Dr. Anna Maria Izquierdo-Porrera, executive director of C4YH, says she has relied on Cámpoli as a sounding board for new ideas and a consultant on the organization’s operations. “She’s helped us pay attention to quality,” Izquierdo-Porrera says. “When you try to build a system that will treat you really well, regardless of whether you have money or not, having someone with that expertise is essential.”
Cámpoli has helped C4YH build its infrastructure, track its services, review workflows and improve efficiency, Izquierdo-Porrera says. She also has conducted risk assessments and done strategic planning with the nonprofit.
Since C4YH began in 2008, it has evolved in response to community needs. Support has expanded for individuals with dementia, and considerations are underway to provide adult day care, Izquierdo-Porrera says. Through the coronavirus pandemic, it has been running mobile clinics to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, using bilingual volunteers to help build trust with Latino communities to improve vaccination rates.
Cámpoli says she shares Izquierdo-Porrera’s vision to provide multicultural care to people in need and says she would encourage others to look for ways to give of their time.
“The important thing in volunteering for any type of organization is finding your own voice in that volunteer work,” Cámpoli says. “I would not say that volunteering is easy. I would not say that it’s not demanding. However, it’s the way you serve beyond what you do every day to help others.”
Volunteer Spotlight: Meredith Griggs, Court Watch Montgomery
By Caralee Adams
To make sure judges in Montgomery County support victims of domestic violence, a small nonprofit has trained volunteers to watch the court hearings—very carefully. Court Watch Montgomery caught the eye of Meredith Griggs when she was looking for a meaningful way to volunteer in late 2021. She spent her career in international development as a trainer at the World Bank and also with the International Monetary Fund.
“As a longtime teacher and trainer, I really know that monitoring matters and evaluation matters,” says Griggs, 73, who lives in Cabin John.
On behalf of Court Watch, Griggs spends at least two mornings a month sitting in civil domestic violence courtrooms in Rockville as an objective observer. She carefully fills out a two-page form on each case, checking boxes to see if the judge follows various procedures to protect the victim’s safety.
Some procedures are considered best practices around the country—for instance, not releasing victims and abusers from the courtroom at the same time, but rather staggering the exits to reduce the chances of a violent confrontation. Others are mandated by law, such as requiring the defendant to relinquish all firearms when a protective order is issued, according to Leslie Hawes, executive director of Court Watch Montgomery.
The information collected by Griggs and other volunteers is entered into a database. Court Watch staff members then analyze the data and publish reports to recommend improvements in the court system.
“I think their model is so good,” Griggs says of the organization, which provided her with extensive training. “Over time, the rigor of Court Watch has made a real difference. The data they collect is respected, and the reports they write have influence.”
The organization relies heavily on volunteers to fulfill its mission and is looking for more people to supplement its roster, says Amy Cass, volunteer coordinator for Court Watch. Because of the technical nature of the work and training, volunteers are asked to sign up for at least six months.
“We typically attract intellectually curious and compassionate court monitors and data entry volunteers who have a respect for data collection and a penchant for social justice issues,” Cass says. “Court Watch is a unique kind of opportunity, and it does take some commitment of time. We are asking a lot of people to sit on a hard bench in court for three hours, but it is very worthwhile.”
Griggs says she’s been fortunate in her life and likes to be involved in the community helping others. “As the saying goes: To whom much is given, much is expected,” Griggs says. “Everybody can do something, no matter how small it is. No matter what it is.”
Griggs has lived all over the world and is fluent in Spanish. She was a Fulbright junior lecturer in Romania and worked in Colombia. After retiring, she did a stint with the Peace Corps in Ecuador from ages 62 to 64. Working with Court Watch has given her a new insight and respect for those in the justice system, she says.
“As an older, retired person, you can get set in your ways. It’s good to get out there,” Griggs says. “I’m learning so much. It’s opened up a whole new world.”
Volunteer Spotlight: Jay Tipnis, Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy
By Christine Zhu
A few years ago, the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy in Gaithersburg was looking for parent volunteers to perform in a few scenes in the annual production of The Nutcracker. Jay Tipnis, now 44, had no dance experience, but he signed up and learned the role of a party parent. He’s been volunteering at MBT ever since.
Tipnis’ daughter, Leia, started taking classes at the dance organization about six years ago. “My wife had taken her to see The Nutcracker at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre a couple of years before, and she was just so thrilled watching that and seeing the beauty of the production,” says Tipnis, who lives in North Potomac.
Leia was 4 at the time, so she had to wait three years until she was old enough to join the Youth Program at MBT, a nonprofit with locations in Clarksburg and Gatithersburg that’s been teaching students how to dance since 1989. Now 12, Leia takes classes in different styles of dance up to five times a week.
Tipnis’ contribution as a volunteer varies for each production. Sometimes he plays a character on stage. Other times he helps guide dancers backstage or moves props, like he did for Alice in Wonderland one year. He says there’s “almost an electric atmosphere” backstage before shows as excited dancers get ready to perform.
During last year’s production of The Nutcracker, Tipnis was responsible for staying on beat while moving a dolly that held a dancing platform for Mother Ginger as children popped out from underneath her dress. “It is a lot harder than it looks to make that dress dance and stay in rhythm with everyone,” he says with a laugh.
He also creates promotional materials for shows, helping with photography and videography, and creating advertisements for the MBT website, YouTube and Vimeo. He’s an operational researcher working on various programs for the Department of Defense in Virginia, with no film background, so he’s been learning as he goes.
Performances haven’t always been recorded at MBT, but Tipnis is working to change that. “I’ve been making an effort to do that not only for the school, but for the students as well as their families,” he says.
“Jay does such a wonderful job catching the action behind [the scenes],” Academy and Development Manager Noline Edmond says. “The end product always exceeds our expectations.”
The time commitment is usually a couple of hours each week, Tipnis says, but the biggest commitment is during dress rehearsals and performance weekends.
Tipnis says his parents immigrated to the United States from India in the 1970s and bonded with others through community theater, so that was a big part of his life growing up—he acted in some shows and helped out backstage in others, similar to his volunteer work at MBT today. It feels like he’s carrying on a family tradition by experiencing something similar with his daughter, he says.
He says the “family atmosphere” that MBT generates for every production is what stands out to him the most. “It’s a chance for us to bond with something that our kids feel very passionate about,” he says.