Versant Volunteers: Spotlight on Liz Shabaker

Spotlight on Liz ShabakerVolunteer Organization
Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona

What is the purpose of the organization for which you volunteer?
Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona uses the healing powers of the arts to help abused and homeless children build resiliency and learn to trust and heal. All of the children in Free Arts programs have experienced combinations of family trauma, homelessness, and violence. To begin to heal, they need services including mentoring, a caring community, and an opportunity to learn new skills and express themselves.

When did you start your adventure with volunteering?
I became a member of the Development Committee in 2012 and then became a Board Member in 2013. I chaired the Development Committee from 2013 to 2016 and became President of the Board in 2017. In 2016, I had the pleasure of co-chairing the Art for the Heart Art Auction.

What duties do you perform to aid the organization?
My overarching goal is always to raise funds to support the organization and its programs. In addition, I work to spread the mission to those who could impact the organization and to those who could benefit from its services. Finally, getting others involved — through board memberships, mentors for kids in the programs, identifying and tapping into sources of financial support — is essential to the sustainability of the organization.

Why is such an organization needed in the community?
For 24 years, Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona has used art as a tool to help more than 100,000 abused, neglected and homeless children gain self-confidence, learn to express their emotions in positive ways, and build trusting relationships with adults. Today there are more than 20,000 children in our foster care system in Arizona, and even more that are homeless. Very few of these children get any mental health services. In 1993, Free Arts served just 60 children. Last year, we helped 8,000+ children.

What are your reasons for volunteering?
Most of the children served by Free Arts have been removed from their families because of abuse or neglect, and live in foster care group homes. Some children are facing challenges with substance abuse, gang involvement or violence, and live in a residential treatment center. Still other children live with their families in domestic violence or homeless shelters. Every child deserves a chance and I believe Free Arts provides them an opportunity to succeed. They should not be defined by their circumstance.

Which volunteering undertaking do you remember best? Did any of them bring you extraordinary emotions? Or rooted deeply in your memory?
One of the annual programs put on by Free Arts is Theater Camp. Theater Camp boosts self-confidence and empowerment through the power of storytelling. This camp is a two-week, intensive, performing arts experience for teens ages 13 to 17. Children use improvisation, journaling and visual art to explore themes relevant to their lives. Throughout the camp, the reality of violence, abandonment, hope, love and peace are expressed on stage through poetry, movement and music. At the end of the camp, the children perform at the Herberger Theater Center in front of a live audience of friends, family, and the general public. It’s incredibly moving. Don’t miss it this year – June 30th!

What challenges do volunteers in your organization face?
They are always thinking of the kids and whether they are able to do enough. There are so many heart-breaking stories. We want to serve every child in need and there is always concern that more needs to be done.

What rewards do you receive from your volunteer work?
As it relates to Free Arts, I receive so much personal fulfillment seeing the impact of our programs on the kids. Seeing kids who have gone through Free Arts’ programs go on to college. And seeing these same kids coming back to volunteer. It’s really something to be a part of!

When looking at the relationship between volunteering overall and measures of happiness, many studies find the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Volunteering builds empathy, strengthens social bonds and makes you smile — all factors that increase the feeling of love. This has been true for me personally.

What has volunteer work helped you learn about yourself?
Volunteering my skills has helped me develop new skills, especially as it relates to leadership dexterity in my professional business life. Volunteering my experience helps build upon my own personal experiences, as well as that of my daughter. Donating time has been far more powerful than just donating money due to the experiences that help shape who we are.

Could you give a piece of advice to people hesitating whether to undertake volunteering?
Balancing careers, families, home life and volunteerism can be challenging. What I have found is that giving your time to others or organizations that have meaning to you can actually make you feel like you have more time. You feel less time-constrained and guilty about any personal or wasted time.

I often hear this quote – One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served. – Gordon Hinckle

So very true.