Students adapt to virtual volunteering

October 9, 2020

Big Sisters Project provides online business mentoring program for girls

While isolated during a global pandemic, it can often seem as though there are few opportunities to help the community. However, some Gunn students have taken advantage of their free time to start their own volunteer initiatives, such as The Big Sister’s Project, a nonprofit founded by senior Anika Lakhani offering a variety of free tools for young women to help them pursue social entrepreneurship.

Lakhani was inspired by powerful women in her own life, and wanted to take action to make sure young women had the tools they needed to succeed in business. “The reason that I founded The Big Sister’s Project was because I was inspired by the women in my community,” she said. “I thought that there should be some sort of way to pay that inspiration forward, and spread it to other women as well.”

Over the summer, The Big Sister’s Project held a ten-week program to teach young women about social entrepreneurship and business. “During the summer course, each of the 60 participants had the opportunity to create their own social entrepreneurship ventures,” Lakhani said. “This might be their own charity, or their own business.”

Even with all of the things that The Big Sister’s Project as an organization has accomplished, Lakhani is looking towards the future. She hopes that everyone involved with the project can learn to be aware of the world’s problems, and think of new ways to overcome them. “I have eight students of my own whom I tutored this summer, and, I’m just constantly instilling in them, ‘yes we’re teaching business here, but we’re also hoping to inspire you to look at social change as well,’” she said.

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Quaranteen provides opportunity for sewing lessons; passion projects

For the numerous avid volunteers of the Gunn community, social distancing restrictions have posed a seemingly insurmountable barrier to the typical volunteering experience. However, many have students persevered in helping people in the community despite these difficulties. Sophomore Alina Li, who uses her free time at home to teach people how to sew their own clothing via Zoom, is one such volunteer. 

Li found the opportunity to volunteer through Quaranteen, a nonprofit organization founded by senior Katie Kudriavstev and senior Sarah Emberling. Her transition into her new volunteering routine was relatively easy; after teaching math and coding to younger students a year prior and discovering her enjoyment of the job, she began to seek out a way to teach sewing, her favorite hobby. “Quaranteen had posted about running a workshop through their nonprofit and getting volunteering hours,” she said. “I had been thinking about running a sewing workshop for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity.”

Since the takeover of fast fashion shops like Forever 21 and Zara in the late 2000’s, trendy items have come and gone, leaving disposable clothing piling up in local landfills. For Li, sewing one’s own clothes can be a sustainable alternative to customize a person’s style without supporting unethical companies, who often use cheap child labor and manufacturing processes that pollute the environment. “Making your own clothing is a great way to avoid buying into fast fashion,” Li said. “You can really think about what you want your clothes to look like in terms of fabric, style and size.”

Despite the physical disconnect between volunteers and those they serve, Li encourages everybody to give virtual service a chance. “I would say just try it out,” Li said. “It’s nice to help people out, especially right now, and online volunteering is a great way to do that.”

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