Xoom is a recipient of the San Francisco Education Fund’s 2016-17 Distinguished Service Award.
Xoom and Junipero Serra Elementary have built a partnership so strong that when Xoom volunteer Ayo Chaney walks into the building, she doesn’t feel like a corporate volunteer, but part of the school community.
“It really feels, at this point, like a family,” Ayo said.
Xoom volunteers read aloud to students each month, help families get acquainted with their children’s technology programs, dress up for the students’ Halloween celebration and host field trips at their office, among other activities.
“I’ve never had a read-aloud volunteer who has been so eager to help,” teacher Jessi Leary Duquette said of Xoom volunteer Ethan Close, whom she also nominated for a Distinguished Service Award. “He has been my go-to chaperone for all of our field trips. He has worked really hard to get to know all of my kids. He knows all of their names.”
During a recent read-aloud, students went up to Ethan to say hello and tell him about their day or about their families. It’s also not uncommon for Xoom volunteers to spend extra time chatting with the teachers and swapping stories. Ayo attended the fifth-grade graduation and brought her brother, who she said was immediately welcomed by all the teachers and school staff.
Growing up in Berkeley in the ‘90s, Ayo remembers a time when the Bay Area was more diverse, and more families looked like hers. Being at Junipero Serra Elementary School, which features dual-language programs and where most students are Latino, vividly recalls that time, she said.
“It’s the one space I feel in my life that really reminds me of my childhood,” Ayo said.
Xoom has an office in Guatemala, and many of the employees speak Spanish. Principal Eve Cheung remembers a particular family night in which volunteers talked with parents in Spanish and explained how to access an online library of books for their children.
“The communication was catered to our families, and it was wonderful because that’s one of the big pushes for the school — to get the kids to be reading at home,” Principal Cheung said.
Volunteers often speak with the students in their classrooms or read-aloud stories in Spanish.
“It stresses the importance of being bilingual,” Principal Cheung said. “It also stresses how useful it is to have a foot in each country. I think to see competent professionals who access both languages and work within two different countries is inspiring. And especially for my 5th-grade students, who will be going to Xoom’s headquarters, they get to see how the professionals there communicate with people in Guatemala…It’s really nice for them to see that the world opens up — the opportunities open up — if you are bilingual.”
The volunteers and the school are both thankful that Xoom makes so much time available for its staffers to spend at Junipero Serra.
“They really encourage our social impact on San Francisco and really encourage us to get out there and help and support the community outside of our office as much as possible,” Ayo said.
That level of support has helped embed volunteers with the school and ensure students are surrounded with more caring adults who are invested in their education.
“[VP] John Kunz has been very, very supportive, and he’s given his employees this access to fully participate in as many activities that we have,” Principal Cheung said. “The volunteers become part of the classroom community, and they have continuity with a particular classroom. The [volunteers and kids build] a long-term relationship, which is wonderful.”
Read about the other recipients of the 2016-17 Distinguished Service Awards: