Gen’s Story: Math is Fun!

I sure wish I’d had a math tutor like Gen Mezinskis when I was young. Gen is a Volunteer Leader for HomeWork Hounds at Sugar Creek, and we recently sat down over breakfast to talk.

Gen, short for Genevieve, has been involved with Hands On Charlotte for over 10 years. She was immediately drawn to the flexibility of the program, both with the variety of projects offered and the schedule of times available. In her first year volunteering, she tried a range of activities to see what she liked, including bingo and Special Rollers. She found she was drawn to tutoring, and she became a Volunteer Leader when an opportunity arose the next year. She’s been helping Charlotte-area students ever since.

Gen tutoring a student at Sugar Creek Library

At her project volunteers tutor children who range primarily from kindergarten to 5th grade. The project averages ten to 15 students per session, and Gen tries to ensure one-on-one assistance to the kids whenever possible. The project could always use more volunteers, and Gen recommends it to those looking for a first-time HOC opportunity, provided they like working with kids and are OK helping with homework.

It’s easy to see why the children would be comfortable working with Gen. She’s obviously smart, but manages to explain concepts in very understandable terms. The same children often attend tutoring year after year, a tribute to how valuable they and their parents find the program. As one of the benefits of being a long-time volunteer, Gen says it’s been great to see some of the students grow up through their continued involvement in the program.

For years, Gen was the only Volunteer Leader for the weekly project, and she’s thankful to now have a co-leader. Since she enjoys it so much, she often volunteers even when she’s not leading the event, ever committed to helping kids become more successful in school. Now that she has a co-leader, she says she may even try out some different HOC projects again this year.

I asked the Ohio native how she first became interested in volunteering. She went to a camp earlier in life where she found the counselors to be very helpful, making all the campers feel important and cared for. She wanted to help make others feel the same way, and started volunteering at an early age with projects like being a “candy striper” at a hospital.

As to why she chose to volunteer as a tutor, Gen says she’s always done well with math and science. After attending a week-long computer camp for youths, she was hooked. She earned a college degree in computer engineering, which helps in her role managing consumer data in a marketing department for one of Charlotte’s big banks. If she weren’t working at the bank, Gen would like to create software to help people manage chronic diseases.

I asked Gen what she does for fun when not working or volunteering – it turns out, a lot! She’s an avid runner, now having finished 4 marathons. She did the first with her father, an inspiration – he plans to do a marathon in every state, and is already up to 11. She runs every morning, even in the winter cold. Someday she wants to do a marathon with her father in Hawaii, which sure sounds a lot more pleasant! She’s also a skier. She and her long-term boyfriend have tackled some of the toughest ski mountains out west, though they also enjoy local skiing whenever they get the chance.

Gen’s also a world traveler. She recently went to Italy for two weeks with friends, and got to meet some of her boyfriend’s extended family. She has a brother who lives in Latvia, where her father is originally from, and plans to get back there soon. New Zealand is also on her wish list.

As a fellow Volunteer Leader, I asked Gen for any tips that have helped her long-term success in that role. First, she said, is to make sure the volunteers feel comfortable. Sometimes they aren’t sure how to solve a homework problem, so Gen can help them work out a solution as part of a team effort. Second is to help the students build confidence that they can do the work. Kids will occasionally want the tutor to solve the problems for them, which obviously doesn’t aid the student for the future. By showing they can learn to do it themselves, the kids feel encouraged to tackle more problems on their own. Last, she always asks volunteers for feedback, especially those who are new to HOC. That helps her ensure they’ve had a positive experience, and that she can continue to improve in her role.

As someone for whom math was not their strongest subject, I sure wish I had sought tutoring help from someone knowledgeable when I was young. Lucky for the kids of Charlotte, Gen and the volunteers she leads are there to help. To have a Volunteer Leader as smart, committed and worldly as Gen, Hands On Charlotte is pretty darn lucky, too.

— Ryan Sullivan, Volunteer Leader for Saturday Morning Live

Karyn’s Story – getting children involved

One of the delights of Hands On Charlotte is the diversity of its volunteers. When looking at Mrs. Karyn Godsman and me, no one in his right mind would conclude that we have anything at all in common. I’m a tall, heavy set, pale, bearded man who is fond of tattoos and thrash metal. The excellent Mrs. Godsman is a slender housewife and mother of three who constantly wears a cheerful smile. Yet there we were sitting in a local ice cream and coffee shop while chatting about her life, her volunteer work, and her motivation for giving back. Like most of the people I meet in Charlotte, Karyn is a transplant; she hails from the strange and foreign land of Connecticut. Along with her family, she moved to our area a few years ago and has been engaged with Hands On Charlotte for some time now. A veteran of our pet visits project, she shared that “It’s great the look the residents get when they see the dogs. Also my youngest saw one gentleman’s face light up and I knew he got it then the impact we have.”

Karyn & kids

Karyn & her kids at the Fun Zone – photo courtesy of Together We Feed

While two of her kids explore the shop, Karyn talks about her involvement in a new project. “It’s called Fun Zone,” she begins as I eat my ice cream “we meet at a Title I (low-resource school) and partner with Second Harvest Food Bank and Together We Feed to provide activities for kids while their parents are getting food. We have games, face painting, and just an overall blast with them. It’s a lot of fun for everyone and I love that I can bring my own children with me and get them involved.” This partially answered my inevitable question of “Why do you do it?” As Karyn explains, “It’s really important to get kids involved in volunteering and being active early on. It sets a good foundation for later.” We’ll always be dependent on the next generation of volunteers. Thankfully, Hands On Charlotte provides a host of opportunities for families with children.

Another fun facet of our volunteer community is meeting friends of friends. Karyn and I were excited to find that we both know Hands On Charlotte Superstar Sara Yon! Karyn exclaimed, “She’s my bestie in school! I met her at UNCC and we found out we both volunteer with HOC! She borrowed my son for a homework project!” Sara is a veteran of The Relatives and is also one of my best HOC friends. Like Sara, Karyn is working on her Master of Social Work degree as another means of giving back. She believes “We should be focusing on Charlotte’s forgotten neighborhoods and communities. This is a big city and sometimes areas get neglected by city officials and that’s where we should step in with projects.” As a big advocate of Charlotte’s diverse cultures, Karyn says “We should be bringing them together. Mixing people from different communities should always be a goal of any volunteer group.”

Having met Karyn, I am heartened by the strength of our volunteer community and glad there are parents getting their children involved. I whole-heartedly share her vision of Hands On Charlotte’s role in our city. The new Fun Zone project impacts communities with activities for children who may not have many opportunities. It sounds like one of the most enjoyable ideas to come down the pike in a long time. As the summer heat grinds on, Fun Zone is a great way to get the entire family engaged before the school year starts back up. Thank you Karyn, for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts with us. I wish you and the other volunteers at Fun Zone continued success!

  • Ben Burton is a Hands On Charlotte Volunteer Leader for The Relatives project.