Volunteer Team Leader Virginia (Ginny) Giffin began volunteering with Global Volunteers in 2008 in Ecuador and then in Poland in 2009. She went through Team Leader Training with Global Volunteers in 2009 and has since led eight teams: one in Minnesota, two in West Virginia, four in Montana, and one in Cuba. Ginny was a teacher for thirty years and now serves as a District Mental Health Counselor. She has volunteered for her entire adult life. Ginny says she loves seeing people doing work they never imagined they could do before on service programs. Read on for details on Team Leader Ginny Giffin.
How did you come to start volunteering with Global Volunteers and then begin leading teams?
My first volunteer program with Global Volunteers was in Ecuador. I was there for two weeks and I found the experience to be like no experience I’d ever had before. I’ve traveled extensively; however, the depth with which I learned about Ecuador was nothing liked I’d ever experienced in any of my previous travels. I worked with students in the school, helped with cooking (I learned how to make bread rolls for about 400 children), and I was able to practice my very limited amount of Spanish and got quite good at counting. The people are amazing and so resilient. We heard their stories, interacted with their children, and visited their homes. On the weekend, we toured the country and experienced a different side of Ecuador. Did I mention the food? It’s amazing!
The following year, I decided to go to Poland. Wow! What a great experience. (Poland Country Manager) Dorota is so welcoming to her country and shares a wealth of knowledge about Polish everything! You don’t want to miss an opportunity to spend time with her on a program in Poland. I highly recommend it! In Poland, I taught English to high school students. The students are so appreciative of our time. They are excited about learning and spending time with us. The Polish people are so kind and welcoming. Their food is absolutely amazing, also!
After Poland, I was asked to be a team leader. I really didn’t know what to expect, but once I went to the training and led my first team in Minnesota, I was hooked. Everyone in the organization is committed to serving.
“My first volunteer program with Global Volunteers was in Ecuador. I was there for two weeks and I found the experience to be like no experience I’d ever had before. I’ve traveled extensively; however, the depth with which I learned about Ecuador was nothing liked I’d ever experienced in any of my previous travels.”– Ginny Giffin, Volunteer Team Leader
What compels you to lead teams for Global Volunteers?
Well, I totally believe in Global Volunteers. The story of how the organization began did it for me. Everyone is dedicated to making experiences for everyone positive and fulfilling. There is a lot of support. Everyone is focused on the same goal – doing what the community has asked us to do and doing it well.
What is one of your favorite parts of your role as team leader?
My favorite part of being a team leader is getting to know the volunteers on my team and connecting with the community. I also enjoy watching the volunteers over the course of the time they are in the service program. I have seen so many who were “dragged” to volunteer because of a family member and by the end of the program were the first one(s) ready to sign up for another program. I have enjoyed seeing single women who stepped out of their comfort zone, sign up and go to a service program so empowered by the end of their service. I have seen people of all ages doing work they never imagined they could do, having learned a new trade and feeling confident with their new skills. I enjoy watching families working and playing together, perhaps getting to know each other in ways they’ve never known before. I also enjoy the comradery of each group, the new friends, and the long-lasting memories.
“I have seen people of all ages doing work they never imagined they could do, having learned a new trade and feeling confident with their new skills. I enjoy watching families working and playing together, perhaps getting to know each other in ways they’ve never known before. I also enjoy the comradery of each group, the new friends, and the long-lasting memories.”– Ginny Giffin, Volunteer Team Leader
Why do you recommend a Global Volunteers service program?
There are so many reasons why I recommend a Global Volunteer Service Program:
- Everything is taken care of. Volunteers are picked up from/taken to the airport, taken to where we will be staying, and meals are provided. This is so important for a single traveler.
- The service we provide is varied depending on the service program. There’s a lot of variety so that you can match your skills with the community’s needs. There are also lots of opportunities to try something new, perhaps something you’ve never done before but have always wanted to try. And, there’s lots of support for learning.
- The hosts are so very welcoming and willing to share their culture with the volunteers.
- It’s like an experience one cannot get just from traveling. We actually live in communities and become a valued part of the community.
What is your favorite place to serve and lead teams, if you can pick just one?
My favorite place to serve and lead teams is whichever team I find myself on at the time. Each team is different and has so much to appreciate.
In Ecuador, I enjoyed working in the school and helping the women in the kitchen. I practiced my Spanish, enjoyed learning about the country – especially the equator – on the weekend, visited a hospital, and was able to teach math to students.
In Poland, I really enjoyed teaching English to the high school students. They are so eager to learn and so enjoyable to work with. I had the best time interacting with the students. The Polish countryside is beautiful and the history of the country is fascinating.
Cuba was especially fascinating because it’s been closed off to Americans for so long. The Cuban people are so kind. They enjoy interacting with us and want to become proficient in English. The history of the country is another that is amazing. There is such a contrast between Havana and the other parts of the county. We did gardening (which is all organic), helped out at the church, taught English to people of all ages, traveled on horse and carriages (which was so interesting) and immersed ourselves in Cuban music!
Montana – well, once we arrive on site, it feels like we’re in a whole different country. Every time I go, I learn more and more about the Blackfeet culture. This is not the easiest service program; however, the rewards are truly tremendous as we become fully immersed in the community. We have opportunities to work with students and adults. We teach, garden, do construction, help with ceremonies, and do anything else we’re asked to do. Volunteers can attend a sweat lodge ceremony. The views in Big Sky country are breathtaking. The Blackfeet love to talk about their culture and the fry bread meal is scrumptious. There’s an opportunity to visit a working ranch one evening where we ride horses, have a home-cooked meal, and sit around a campfire.
I would definitely go back to any of the places I’ve been and highly recommend all of them!
What can you say to people who are thinking about joining a service program for the first time?
I was really nervous signing up for my first program. I was traveling by myself and going to a country that I had never been to before where they speak a language I don’t speak. Everything with Global Volunteers was so well organized from my arrival to my departure. The people on the program were wonderful. When you live and work with people who volunteer for one or two weeks, we become one-minded — we’re all working toward the same goal and have chosen to volunteer for similar reasons.
What Volunteers Have Said About Ginny
“She is a very happy, positive, kind and enthusiastic team leader and person! I hope to do future Global Volunteer trips with her. Highly recommend.”
– Hannah Quick, Cuba volunteer
“Ginny was fantastic. This was my first trip and she couldn’t have been more helpful and understanding.”
– Autumn Enovitch, Montana volunteer
Ginny Off the Clock
I was a teacher in Orange County Schools (Florida) for 30 years. Recently, I became a District Mental Health Counselor and I travel around to schools working with students in need of counseling. I’ve taught school in the public school system in London, England, and I traveled extensively during the three years I worked and lived there.
I have two adult children and four grandchildren – my son has two girls and my daughter has two boys. They both live in Florida, but on complete opposite ends of the state. I’m in the middle near Disney, so that makes visits to me worthwhile.
I have enjoyed every service program I’ve been on and feel I learn so much on every one. Communities are so welcoming to volunteers and so willing to share. Travel takes on a new meaning when one is immersed into the community, living and working like a local person. Each time I leave a service program, I feel I’ve changed in so many good ways.
I have volunteered for what seems like my entire adult life. I helped out at my children’s school when they were young. I taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. I volunteered with Girl Scouts and Boys Scouts when my children were in them.
In my free time, I love to travel. I recently joined a Barre studio and have really enjoyed working out. I ride my bicycle on the weekends. I have an annual pass and use it as often as I can at Disney. Most of all, I love spending time with my children and their families. Oh, and as you may have guessed from the above, I love to eat and try new restaurants. Orlando is very multi-cultural and I really enjoy trying all kinds of food.
Ginny will be leading the South Dakota service program on Rosebud Reservation starting on June 11, 2022.
To join a team under Ginny’s leadership, chat with a program expert now.