An Interview with ACS Volunteer Penny Van Niel

What 3 words would your friends use to describe you?

Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful

How have you adapted to the new normal, and what are you currently working on?

The new normal has been easier for me than for many because my daughter is grown and it is just me, my husband and my dog at home. We all enjoy spending time at home and with each other. Like everyone else, we’ve had to practice living in the moment and appreciating small things like a good book, virtual drinks with friends, doing an online class, and walks in the beautiful HK countryside. 

I am really happy that dragon boat practices with my wonderful AWA Globe Paddlers Dragon Boat team have resumed. As an executive coach, I have always done a lot of work virtually, so moving client meetings and workshops online has been relatively smooth. Of course, I should also mention that continuing to volunteer at ACS throughout this year gave me the opportunity to use some of my knowledge and skills to support others. Sharing your gifts is the best way to keep from feeling glum and frustrated.

You have been a passionate, enthusiastic volunteer on different ACS programs over the past year – could you share about your volunteering journey so far and your motivation for volunteering with us ?

I have volunteered at ACS for 5 years, starting the first series of the Ignite Program. Typically, we have between 40-60 NGOs attend Ignite and I love meeting and interacting with lots of different HK-based NGOs. I enjoy using my training, design and facilitation skills to create the programs but especially love facilitating the breakouts and hearing about the mission and challenges of the many different organisations serving the HK community. The NGO staff are so inspiring and interesting! Ignite also allows me to expand my own knowledge of topics like crowdfunding and agile work principles by working with the experts we find to help teach Ignite. 

Another special aspect of Ignite is the team of ACS staff and volunteers who are in the core curriculum design team. We have a truly collaborative and supportive team that challenges one another to be creative and pragmatic. I also loved working on the design and delivery of the JC Engage series. JC Engage allows me to go more in-depth on topics and also get to know 1-2 NGOs better. We work intensively with the NGOs to help them come up with a tangible deliverable. It’s very satisfying to see results and work with the NGO staff on the challenges of implementation. 

Volunteering with ACS has given me a chance to use my professional experience and knowledge to help the NGO community in HK and also to continue to learn and grow myself. I am continually humbled by the caring, hard work and creativity if the staff of the NGOs I come into contact with through ACS – and by the dedication, organization and cheerfulness of the staff of ACS itself!

From your volunteering experience with ACS so far, what would be your 3 tips to those who have just joined the ACS Volunteer Community?

1) Be ready to pitch in and do what needs to be done,
2) don’t assume you know the answer….be ready to learn from the NGO leaders who know their mission and beneficiaries best,
3) have fun; for me, one of the best parts of volunteering at ACS has been getting to know the ACS staff and other volunteers.

Thank you Penny for your time for this interview! We are glad to hear your journey with us. Look forward to seeing you in ACS activities soon! All the best.

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