December Spotlight: Shannon Bison and the Importance of Year-Round Volunteering

shanonspotlightShannon Bison understands the importance of year-round volunteering. She joined Boston Cares in 2011 and has been a consistent and engaged volunteer for the past eight years. Since then, she has served countless meals at shelters and kitchens, packaged books at Prison Book Program, participated in multiple TeamWorks cycles, and even gone on two hurricane relief trips through the HandsOn Network.

Although Shannon grew up in New Hampshire, she moved to Boston almost a decade ago and now considers this city to be her home. She has loved getting to know the different communities of the Boston area, and finds that an important aspect of her volunteerism is the connection she draws between organizations and the communities they’re serving. She was first introduced to volunteering at The University of New Haven through an organization called “SMILE – Students Making an Impact on their Living Environment.” After college she worked as a Community Director, overseeing volunteers and in kind donations for The March of Dimes, which improves the health of babies by preventing birth defects, prematurity and infant mortality. In 2007, Shannon made a career shift to business and currently works as a Marketing Manager for the robotics company Rethink Robotics. Despite this change, she wanted to continue her involvement with nonprofits. “I made a promise to myself that I would spend time volunteering with nonprofits. And If I wasn’t going to be working for one I wanted to still be giving back in some way.”

Over the years, Shannon went on to volunteer her time for countless projects. In 2011 she had the opportunity to aid in hurricane relief, and joined a group of volunteers through Points of Light in New Orleans, almost seven years after Katrina. She also went on a trip to Staten Island through our affiliate New York Cares after Hurricane Sandy. Shannon recounts these service trips as truly impactful: “being able to hear those folks’ stories was really incredible and eye-opening. When the news is no longer covering it anymore, it’s important to understand that people are still suffering.”

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Since then, Shannon has committed to making volunteerism a prominent and consistent part of her life. In 2017, a dedication to volunteerism was part of her New Year’s resolution. “My volunteering has ebbed and flowed over the years because of my travel schedule, but specifically this year one of my new year’s resolutions was to try to volunteering once a week or four times a month. I made it more of habit to look at the calendar in advance and get myself signed up for opportunities.”

Shannon has followed through on that promise through countless volunteer experiences, many of which had to do with her interest in community health.

“I’m really passionate about health and nutrition, wellness and making sure everyone has the opportunities to be healthy. And so I do a lot of volunteering with food and nutrition based projects like Daily Table and soup kitchens.”

Shannon brings a unique contribution to volunteerism because of her experience on both sides of the process; as a volunteer recruiter for the nonprofit she previously worked for, as well as a volunteer in her personal time. Because her perspective has been framed by both angles, she has a unique understanding of the need for volunteering year round: “Organizations are dependent on volunteers to help them as one of their resources, specifically, during certain times of the year like summer when a lot of people are on vacation. During those times volunteers can considerably impact how organizations are able to serve the community. I think it’s important that people are thinking about volunteering during the holidays and certain times of the year, but also acknowledge the other seasons when organizations maybe are running low on money and support. This is when they really need the extra help to get by. There are things that organizations need the funding and support all throughout the year to be able to serve as many people as possible.”

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“What excites me about volunteering is the immediate impact of giving back to people, you’re doing something that is both benefitting your community and giving back to either an organization or an individual. As a volunteer leader, it’s great to meet like-minded people in the community, and it reminds you there’s so much good in the world, there are so many people spending their time trying to make a difference, and giving back. It’s so great to see people’s passion and their willingness to give, to show up and do the work, no matter what it is.”

Whether it is rebuilding homes after a hurricane, reading to kids at Roca, or serving healthy meals at the Boston Living Center, Shannon brings the same mentality to all of her projects.

Boston Cares volunteers especially show this passion during the holiday season. Not surprisingly, when asked what her favorite holiday tradition was, Shannon was selfless in her response: “I love cookies! I like to bake cookies, making treats for my coworkers, and all the festive holiday events.” Her favorite cookies to make are Scotties, which are oatmeal with butterscotch chips.

At Boston Cares we love to recognize the incredible work our volunteers do and they impact they have with events like our Award Ceremony and Volunteer Socials. Shannon enjoys opportunities’ like these because it gives her a chance to hear other volunteers’ stories and how they got involved. As for her own involvement, it is almost second-nature: “So many people ask me the question ‘Why do you volunteer?’ And I say ‘why not?’ That’s an aspect I think some people don’t understand; by giving to others you’re also giving back to yourself. It feels good to do things outside yourself and get involved in your community. Volunteering is wonderful way to meet people and most importantly, doing something that is also benefitting others.”

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