Our volunteers come from different educational backgrounds, professions, countries of origin, and from several different areas around Seattle. But one common trait weaves them all together. It’s that  one unquantifiable, immeasurable soft skill that makes a volunteer pick up the phone or click on their Compose button and respond to Zeno’s call for volunteers. Call it enthusiasm. Energy. Spirit. A fervor. When backed by a strong belief that one person can make a difference, enthusiasm is contagious and magically brings together everyone in the room toward a positive solution.

Zeno volunteer Eli Sheldon
Zeno volunteer Eli Sheldon

If you have walked into one of our Seattle area Mathfests, you have certainly felt this enthusiasm ringing in the air. There’s also a fair chance that you stopped at Eli Sheldon’s table. Eli has been helping at our Mathfests, teaching the joy of math through card games.  In his own words, here’s Eli, on what brought him to Zeno….
I first heard about Zeno (when it was Explorations in Math) through the Microsoft Volunteer Manager program, as it matched the interests I had listed (teaching/mentoring/math). The Eastside Mathfest sounded like an interesting experience from the description, and seemed like an easy, one-time thing (unlike my other volunteer work, being a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound). I emailed some friends to see if they were interested in joining me, and I ended up convincing three or four of them to come. We all drove out to Kirkland that morning not really knowing what to expect, and were warmly welcomed and immediately felt like part of a great volunteering community.

On how long it took him to get up to speed…
The learning curve was pretty low for me, as I spent two summers in college working for ID Tech Camps, where I taught kids in the same age range how to create simple video games. One challenge, I’d say, was just learning to deal with the sheer volume of kids coming through, and their different experience levels and interest levels. The game I led at the Seattle MathFest was a math-based card game that took us adult volunteers about five minutes to really figure out, so finding a way to explain it fast enough that kids wouldn’t become impatient but would still know how to play was exhilarating, especially the first few times. That said, maybe the hardest challenge so far has been dealing with overbearing parents who get a little too competitive on behalf of their children and essentially take over for them 🙂

On his most memorable experience and what keeps him coming back to Zeno…..and a classic example of his zeal…
This “story” is hard to put into words, as it was more of a feeling… I went into the Seattle MathFest remembering that I enjoyed my first MathFest I volunteered at, but I didn’t accurately remember to what extent. I was a bit hesitant about how efficiently we could explain this card game to kids as they came up, and decided to wing it instead of really practicing. When the first kids came charging through the door, most of them ran right by us – after all, how flashy is a card game when there are giant fuzzy dice nearby? I stepped in front of the table and started enthusiastically chanting the name of my game and claiming it was the best activity of them all. I roped a few kids in pretty quickly, started explaining the rules, and made sure they were actually playing as soon as possible. I wasn’t sure it had all clicked, so I kept reinforcing the rules as we played, and by the end everyone at the table definitely had it under control. They all really seemed to enjoy the game, and as they left for their next activity I was beaming. I had completely bought into Zeno’s mission and execution and spent the rest of the event equally delighted as child after child grasped the game and the math concepts behind it. Hard to explain, and maybe a bit cheesy… but that’s what I’ve got.

Not cheesy at all, we think, a story for the books, and one that will resonate with every Zeno volunteer who has believed (s)he can make a difference, and has. Thank you, Eli, your enthusiasm is like sunshine in Seattle!

This week’s volunteer post is from Anusha Rao, Advisor for Volunteer Communications and Social Media. Anusha has been dabbling in the blog world for several years, she reviews children’s literature for Saffron Tree and writes about parenting joys at Talking Cranes.

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