Volunteer Team Leader Karen Wark began volunteering with Global Volunteers in 2016 and has since served as a team member or Volunteer Team Leader on 25 programs: nine times in Montana, seven in West Virginia, four in Cuba, twice in Vietnam, and once in South Dakota, Romania, and Ecuador. Karen grew up in a family that believed that service to others was an integral part of one’s life, and in addition to serving with Global Volunteers, she volunteers in her community in New York City. Read on for details on Team Leader Karen Wark.
What initially motivated you to serve with Global Volunteers and then become a team leader?
I began my journey with Global Volunteers serving on a team in the Blackfeet Nation, in Montana. I was drawn to this team as my grandmother was Blackfeet, although she had not grown up on the reservation, and I wanted to learn more about the culture – and not as a tourist.
And I was so grateful for this experience! Because of Global Volunteers’ long-term relationship with this community, I don’t believe that we are seen as outsiders. I feel as though we are seen as an integral part of their community. As volunteers on the reservation, we have an opportunity to serve the Elders, work with the children, and participate in building projects working alongside the Blackfeet people. We are invited to participate in their sacred ceremonies as their guests – not as tourists.
Having had this extraordinary experience in Montana, I immediately signed up to volunteer in West Virginia, which is another community where Global Volunteers has deep roots. Our community partner there – the Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS) provides programs for low-income housing, rehabilitation of existing homes, and food assistance and after-school programs. As a volunteer in these programs, we have an opportunity to develop connections with the local community by working closely with them.
After participating on these teams, I had the opportunity to become a Team Leader and have served in this capacity in the Blackfeet Nation and West Virginia, as well as in Cuba, Vietnam, and the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Each of these experiences has allowed me, and the teams that I serve with, to immerse ourselves deeply in cultures that, without the long-term relationships that Global Volunteers has developed with their partners in these regions, would not be possible. They would certainly not be possible as a tourist.
“Each of these experiences has allowed me, and the teams that I serve with, to immerse ourselves deeply in cultures that, without the long-term relationships that Global Volunteers has developed with their partners in these regions, would not be possible.”– Karen Wark, Volunteer Team Leader
What do you enjoy most about leading teams with Global Volunteers?
Well, of course, I love learning about other cultures and knowing that the service that we are providing is hugely impactful to the communities we are in; however, what I believe I enjoy most is spending one or two weeks with people – the other volunteers – who also believe that the most important thing that we can be doing with our time and money is bringing benefit to others. The structure that Global Volunteers provides within each team allows for us to immediately become a service family, working together to meet objectives while developing lasting relationships with each other and the communities we are serving.
Why do you recommend a Global Volunteers service program?
The reasons that I recommend Global Volunteers are for the same reason that, after my first project, I immediately signed up for another one. With Global Volunteers, you will be an integral part of the community you are serving. This is invaluable if you want to build lasting connections with others. The projects that we work on are relevant to the communities that we serve; and we serve with them, not for them. The work that we do as Global Volunteers is not charity; it is the recognition that while there may be places in the world that can use the additional resources that we can bring, and what these communities can teach us about other ways of being in the world is so valuable. I also recommend Global Volunteers as they are just so well organized – from one’s first contact with staff to the follow up after the project, there is nothing that the volunteer needs to worry about besides booking your flights, and maybe getting a visa. With such a solid organizational structure, we are able to easily focus on being of service within the community, without logistical distractions.
“The work that we do as Global Volunteers is not charity; it is the recognition that while there may be places in the world that can use the additional resources that we can bring, and what these communities can teach us about other ways of being in the world is so valuable.”– Karen Wark, Volunteer Team Leader
What is your favorite place to serve and lead teams?
While I truly love all of the places that I have served, I do have a favorite and that is the Blackfeet Reservation. This is partly due to my personal connection to the people; and it is also because of how welcome we are made to feel when we are there. To be able to serve on a reservation, and to be treated as a member of the community, is truly an amazing experience and I am so grateful to Global Volunteers for building the relationships with the Blackfeet Nation that have created this opportunity for all of us.
“I also recommend Global Volunteers as they are just so well organized – from one’s first contact with staff to the follow up after the project, there is nothing that the volunteer needs to worry about besides booking your flights, and maybe getting a visa. With such a solid organizational structure, we are able to easily focus on being of service within the community, without logistical distractions.”– Karen Wark, Volunteer Team Leader
What Volunteers Have Said About Karen
“A lovely person who truly cared about our project, the community, and our team. She was well organized, managed the project very well, enthusiastic, intelligent, and fun. Karen was a pleasure to work with.” – Ken Dubuque, 8-time Global Volunteer
“Karen is kind, patient, very process-oriented, and extremely focused on giving every volunteer the best possible experience.” – Rona Pietrzak, Cuba volunteer
“Karen genuinely has a passion for helping others and a love and respect for the Blackfeet culture and people. She organized many unique outside experiences for us to see Montana life/Blackfeet culture in a way we would not have otherwise been able to see. Karen was open, honest, and genuinely a caring leader.” – Alex Johnson, Montana volunteer
“Karen was fantastic in every way. Kind, organized, patient, knowledgeable, hard-working, and respectful. Outstanding.” – Gwenn Benson, Montana volunteer
“Karen is an enthusiastic leader and very knowledgeable. She is extremely sensitive to the needs of others. She constantly gathers feedback from the volunteers in order to address any concerns and/or to adjust the program if need be.” – Janet McCoid, Cuba volunteer
“Well organized, an effective Global Volunteer team leader. Always available to help team members with any questions or problems. Very friendly and supportive.” – Jane Burch, 16-time Global Volunteer
Karen’s Background & Dedication to Service
Karen grew up in Northern California in a family that believed service to others was an integral part of one’s life. As a very young person, she had the good fortune to experience the benefits of helping others whether it was socializing with Elders or planning fund raising events for children’s programs. Because of these experiences, making time for serving others is as much a necessity in her life as making time for work or family.
She also feels blessed to have grown up in a family that valued education and constant learning. After receiving an MA in Cultural Anthropology and an MS in Education, she began working for an international philosophical organization whose work she is passionate about, and been dedicated to, for the past 30 years.
In addition to volunteering with Global Volunteers, Karen also serves as a Team Lead with New York Cares, in New York City, where she now lives. She serves at and supports numerous food pantries and shelters throughout the city. In her free time, enjoys leading hikes through the beautiful Catskills with the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Karen is leading two teams in Montana this summer, beginning on July 17 and July 24. She is also leading in West Virginia, starting on October 10.
To join a team under Karen’s leadership, chat with a program expert now.