Editor’s note: Joseph Pham was Zeno’s 2014 nominee for the Jefferson Award, a community-wide honor for outstanding volunteerism.
Joseph Pham doesn’t take volunteering lightly. When the Boeing industrial engineer’s travel schedule eased up enough for him to pursue volunteering in early 2013, he turned to the company’s community engagement program. He sought out a variety of volunteer events to find which organization was the best fit for his time and talent. Among the nonprofits the Boeing engineer chose was Zeno.
Joseph pitched in at Zeno events, and quickly became a regular. Soon he was serving as the Boeing volunteer point of contact for Zeno, helping to recruit and process the dozens of volunteers Zeno relies on to bring fun math to Seattle-area children and their families. He also rearranged is work schedule to accommodate volunteering during math time at Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Elementary in South Seattle, a school that partners with Zeno to engage its students more deeply in math.
With both classroom volunteering and Zeno events, Joseph can spend upwards of 10 hours a week to ensure children, especially those with the greatest need, build confidence and competence in math abilities.
When Joseph stepped up his volunteerism with Zeno and MLK, he said he was doing so because he believed in supporting every child in discovering the joy of math. He does this with utter humility and thoughtfulness. For example, when he started working in classrooms at MLK, he did so initially on a trial basis, to determine his comfort level with managing third-graders, not to mention managing his time away from his full-time job at Boeing. At the end of the trial, Joseph was hooked.
“After much thought, I’ve decided to continue assisting for the rest of the school year. I’ll still be only able to help out once a week due to work, but I’ll do what I can to support the 3rd graders in bettering their math skills,” he said.
Joseph imagines a world in which all kids are successful in math and then delivers on his commitment to seeing that vision realized. And he does it with great enthusiasm with humor. When renewing his classroom volunteering, he showed how much he enjoys bringing fun math to his students.
“I’ll return to the classroom on December 5,” he said. “We’ll see if Anna Le remembers her promise to save me a Capri Sun on her birthday!”
Joseph demonstrates his creativity and resourcefulness in working with Zeno staff to engage adults attending events with their children. Rather than accepting that adults would rather just socialize with each other at Zeno events, Joseph experiments with techniques to draw in the adults and help them feel comfortable and confidence in math along with the children they are chaperoning.
For a volunteer to go from zero to more than a dozen Zeno events in less than a year—not to mention his math-time classroom commitment at MLK—is extraordinary. Joseph inspires Zeno.
He impacts not only adults and children but Zeno as an organization. He logs his volunteer hours to earn the Boeing volunteer match for Zeno. He spreads the word about Zeno to other Boeing volunteers. And he sips Capri Sun with third-graders.
Zeno is deeply indebted to Joseph Pham for showing us just what it means to love math. Thanks, Joseph!