Chances are, if you’ve volunteered with Boston Cares, you’ve heard of Allegra Marra.
You may have met her at one of our volunteer socials, or watched her present at our annual awards ceremony. Maybe Allegra set you up to volunteer in our office, or was your volunteer leader for a project. No matter the interaction, there’s no doubt that you immediately felt warmed and welcomed by her presence. Allegra is our Senior Program Manager, and an incredibly compassionate person who lives out her life dedicated to service. She continually works to connect people to the communities they live in through service, volunteering, and an unyielding empathy for others.
Allegra grew up in Cranston, RI, a neighborhood just outside Providence. Anyone from Rhode Island knows the small size of the state carries with it a unique sense of community.
Allegra carried this mentality with her as she attended Clark University in Worcester. At Clark she noticed that although the university was in the middle of a community, many students stuck to their on-campus lives and rarely participated in the city as a whole. Seeking to rectify this and encourage other students to be active citizens on campus and off campus, she started working at the Community Engagement office.
“I think it reminded it me that there are so many people that really care about the community that they live in, and they really just love the place they live, which is so inspiring to me to see. I just feel like ‘why live somewhere if you aren’t giving back to that place?’ You could be just living somewhere, spending most of your time living or working. But what’s the point of being there if you’re not learning the history of the community? Or not engaging with all the different organizations that are doing the work to make it a better place?”
Throughout her time at Clark, Allegra took service-learning classes, interned at the Regional Environmental Council, and volunteered as a swim coach at the local Boys and Girls Club. Service became an integral part of her life, and she decided to pursue her masters in Community Development and Planning. After graduating, Allegra looked for a job that would combine her love for volunteering and her passion for community, which led her to Boston Cares.
Allegra started three years ago as a Program Manager and since then has been promoted to Senior Program Manager, her role today currently covers many aspects of our organizational mission including building important connections with partner organizations.
“With the calendar we work with over 165 agency partners, a part of my job is to maintain all of those relationships while also finding new projects for the calendar. So the beautiful thing about this job is that you really get to learn all the ins and outs of the different nonprofits in Boston. For example I’ve become familiar with their missions and what they’re looking for, and what they’re getting done around the community. It’s nice to be able to post those projects to the calendar and then find volunteers to match them with.”
One of Allegra’s favorite aspects of her role is visiting new projects and meeting the folks at organizations that make their mission possible. “I’ve learned about all the struggles that nonprofits face, like being understaffed and not being able to get everything done that they need to. It always made me think about how there has to be some way to fulfill those missions without having staff burn out. There might be only two staff people that are working full time at a specific nonprofit. That is also why volunteer management was so interesting to me because I wanted to help organizations get over those barriers of being able to get their mission done.”
Before a project is approved to go on the Calendar, Allegra often tries out the volunteer project to see if it is a good match with Boston Cares. Another important part of her role is coordinating our Volunteer Leader Relations Committee. She is continually refreshed and inspired by the commitments our Volunteer Leaders make to organizations, and the passion that they bring to volunteering.
Outside of Boston Cares, Allegra likes exploring her neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, trying new restaurants, playing with her cat Charlie, and not so shockingly, volunteering. Allegra is a Volunteer Leader every other Wednesday at The Jeremiah Program.
The Jeremiah Program is an organization that “offers one of the nation’s most successful strategies for transforming families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time.” Jeremiah offers single mothers a holistic approach to pursuing a college education while also offering a safe, inviting place for their children to play and learn while they’re in class. This organization is so effective because it focuses on the full person and addresses needs from a myriad of directions. The mothers are students at Jeremiah and they also have access to a social network and are provided with a safe, supportive place to share meals and connect. Currently Jeremiah has a full time staff of only two people, so it is especially important that volunteers are able help provide the best experience for both the moms and their children.
Allegra can attest to the benefit of utilizing volunteers at this particular organization. “Being able to have those two hours where they can be in class uninterrupted and the volunteers can watch the kids is so vital to their education. It’s also really fun for volunteers because I feel like it’s one of our programs on the calendar where you can really have an immediate impact and one-on-one interaction with kids.” As a volunteer, Allegra might help older kids with homework, play games inside, or now that’s its nice out, take the kids to the playground down the block. Although two hours might not seem like a lot in the volunteers’ week, it is an incredibly valuable time for the mothers to focus on their education. You can learn more about The Jeremiah Program here.
Allegra has found her experience volunteering at The Jeremiah Program to be an incredible way to feel connected and engaged in her community.
“I really think that it’s important if you’re living in a community to give back to that community, learn about it and spend the little bit of your time learning about nonprofits, community organizations or community activists. Service also allows people to connect with other people. If you’re new to Boston and you’re trying to learn your place here, volunteering is a good way to get to know people that are also interested in that and have similar community interests. They also will be people who want to spend their time doing something good. I like that Boston Cares is so focused on those connections and building those networks because otherwise some people might feel a little bit lost. I think connecting those people with the nonprofits that need the volunteers is really important.”
If you have yet to meet Allegra, you can sign up to volunteer with her at The Jeremiah Program, or be sure to look out for her at our annual Summer of Service social in July.