Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: May Edition

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Our Monthly Volunteer Spotlight returns after taking the month of April off to focus on our National Volunteer Week blog series! This month, meet Joe O’Sullivan, who is a first-of-his-kind volunteer. Read on to learn more about his role and his journey with Central City Concern!

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Name: Joe O’Sullivan

Position: Volunteer Bloodborne Pathogen Trainer. Joe’s main duty is to lead and facilitate an hour-long bloodborne pathogen training to groups of CCC employees. The bloodborne pathogen training is an Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirement for all employees who have the potential to be exposed to any bloodborne pathogen or potentially infectious materials over the course of their employment.

What drew you to CCC and this volunteer opportunity?
I finished college about a year ago and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I was looking around at different things. I reflected on the past four years of my life – about how I’d been sort of self-absorbed and self-centered in a way. I was focusing on myself and my grades and close family and friends and that was my life pretty much. And where I went to school, there’s a big emphasis on advocacy and such, but I felt a bit isolated from the city and I didn’t really know much of anything about the big issues.

So when I got out I really wanted to do something in the city and give back whatever I could. I started volunteering around town at other similar organizations. I really liked it and so I just kept looking for more opportunities.

Had you heard about CCC before?
Well, I majored in biology and psychology in college and I had a couple classes that mentioned CCC. One of the classes was about mental health and I heard about the mental health services offered here. And I think another class was an “Addiction and the Brain” course in which they talked about some of the organizations that work with people living with addiction.

I also have a few friends who work here, too, so I’d heard about CCC through them off and on. So I looked into CCC and luckily at that time there was a position that was a good fit for me.

What have you enjoyed about volunteering?
I’ve really liked being the bloodborne pathogens trainer. And in some ways I’ve enjoyed it because on top of teaching the class, I really like the conversations I have with people before and after the class. I didn’t expect that, but that’s been the best part.

Since I haven’t done it for a whole year yet [note: the bloodborne pathogen training is a yearly requirement], every person who’s come through the class has been new to me. It’s usually people who are just starting their job at CCC so that makes it really interesting.

All types of employees take the class: from someone who just joined Clean & Safe to someone doing mentoring to doctors, nurses, and pharmacists – it’s everyone all together. I’ve had a great time meeting people and I feel like I’ve met a good amount of staff – maybe up to a couple hundred I think!

In the beginning of the class, I usually ask people how long they’ve been here and what department or program they’re in and so I’ve met people from all over. That’s been really fun.

Are there any conversations that stick out to you?
It was my first day volunteering, my first class. I was talking with someone before the class because they were the first person there. He mentioned how he was homeless before he accessed CCC housing, and now here he is as an employee of Clean & Safe. He said that specifically that "Central City Concern had saved” him. That meant a lot. I thought I was just coming in and teaching bloodborne pathogens, but all of a sudden I’m having conversations like that – that was pretty incredible.

Oddly, I’ve met a lot of people who used to work at CCC for maybe a few years, left for a different job elsewhere, but then have come back. And everyone I’ve talked to in that category always says that they don’t know what it is, but it’s a certain feeling of, like, just knowing you’re doing a good thing here.

Interestingly – it’s been a couple people who have said this – that it’s this “inside feeling” knowing that you’re doing a good thing. Maybe they left for a job that paid more, but at the end of the day they didn’t get that feeling when they left work each day.

I also remember someone saying that hypothetically in every job, you’re doing something good for someone. But there’s something different about working for a place like CCC where you leave at the end of the day knowing that you’ve helped someone in your neighborhood or city.

How has volunteering figured into your professional goals?
Let’s see. I also volunteer at an HIV testing center, so I’ve spoken with a lot of people who are in situations with a lot of stigma and a lot of discrimination. That’s been eye-opening because I’ve always read and heard about it, but in talking with someone face to face, you get a whole different perspective.

I also work in an emergency department where we see a lot of people experience mental illness, so I hear from them.  And I’ve also worked at a down syndrome clinic so I’ve heard from the families there and the types of discrimination they and their children have dealt with. And of course in volunteering here, I get to interact with people who have lived on the streets at some point and hear about their experience with that, as well as what they’ve gone through in overcoming that.

I feel hearing all of those perspectives and stories has been a huge influence on me in deciding what I want to do with my life. I’ve decided that I want to do what I can to tackle the problem through the lens of healthcare: providing excellent, equitable healthcare for everyone regardless of their position or background.

Especially here at CCC, the people I’ve met have been a huge influence on that decision. Like I said, a year ago, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare but I didn’t know exactly what. But now, I have a much more solid idea of how I want to be a part of that. That’s why I took the MCAT and am planning on applying to med school.

What did you expect out of this volunteer role before your first day?
The hardest part going in was that the the ”students” in the class are all over the place in terms of knowledge about bloodborne pathogens: you’ll get some people who have no idea (no biology training at all), but you’ll also have a physician in there, so it’s really hard to tailor the class.

I remember going in and being really nervous about that. But it’s all worked out so far. It took a few classes to get used to it.

Has your understanding or perspective about CCC changed since you started?
I had no idea how big Central City Concern was or how old it was. The other thing I think is pretty remarkable is finding out that more than 40% of employees identify as being in recovery – I thought that was unbelievable.

And after being around the employees and getting more familiar with the programs, I feel like CCC goes one step further – providing housing and healthcare, but also employment which I think is the missing step in a lot of places. I’ve met so many people from the class who will say that I was on the streets and now I have this job.

What would you say to someone who was on the fence about volunteering?
Well, I think everyone should volunteer. We’re social creatures and I think something in us makes us want to help each other. Everyone wants to be a part of something.

The feeling you get when helping someone else is like no other. I think everyone should give back to the community. Having the opportunity to give back even just a tiny bit has been a great experience and it’s also opened the doors to help me realize what I want to do with my life.

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We feel lucky and thankful to have a volunteer like Joe whose expertise and enthusiasm is a gigantic help in providing our employees with critical education about bloodborne pathogens! If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, contact CCC’s Volunteer Coordinator at