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SAP Helping Sunday Friends Offer a Working Alternative to Charity

Picture this… giggles and laughs heard over songs from the 80s coming from the Board Room at the Goodwill HQ office in San Jose, CA. Step into the Board Room and your eyes land on a table covered with beautiful hand painted envelopes. Across the room, another table is stacked with colorful lanyard badges decorated for the holidays with pipe cleaners, bells, yarn, and more! At the far end of the room, a scissor yielding volunteer proudly shows you a bag filled with laminated tickets she just spent the last three hours cutting.

The Working Alternative to Charity

I was fortunate to be among twelve SAP volunteers who came together for SAP’s Month of Service to help Sunday Friends, a non-profit organization that has a unique way of helping hundreds of low income families break their cycle of helplessness and poverty to achieve a healthy, productive, and economically stable future. This program is different to the traditional charity model that attempts to address poverty by fulfilling immediate needs such as providing housing to homeless or food to the hungry. Instead they provide families with positive experiences though a supportive community with whom they can develop new skills and discover their inner strengths and self-worth.

Lily and Vanessa from Sunday Friends told us that over fifty percent of the families they serve are immigrants trying to integrate into the American culture by learning English while struggling to avoid homelessness. To put this into perspective, most of these families earn an income of just $20-30K per year.

The organization’s name, Sunday Friends, describes their program in just those two words. On Sunday afternoons, these families come together with volunteers as a community to participate in educational programs that include English as a Second Language (ESL), cooking, parenting, reading and writing, and computer education. But this program is more than just classes, there are no handouts at Sunday Friends.

Their tag line -- ‘The Working Alternative to Charity’ – refers to how their program offers an integrated economic environment filled with opportunities–not just to receive, but also to give. Their participation in opportunities to learn, share or give back to the community earns them tickets which they redeem at their store for necessities such as toiletries, cleaning supplies, diapers and baby supplies, school supplies, and toys.

We were inspired by Vanessa’s words when she shared that when a mom, dad, grandma, teen or child is able to help their family make ends meet through their own positive participation, the satisfaction is palpable. “With Sunday Friends families develop work ethics, self-confidence, English literacy and practical life skills,” she said.

SAP Volunteers Sweating to the Oldies

Our job as SAP volunteers was to help Sunday Friends deliver these experiences by creating some of the items they use to run their operations. To keep our production up and make the work go by fast, the team shared stories and rocked to music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s!

We painted envelopes. Three times a year, Sunday Friends sends out about 3,500 mailers with updates and events to their supporters and participating families. Recipients are ecstatic when they see their one-of-a-kind hand-painted envelope among the stack of bills and adds they get in the mail.

We minted tickets. Tickets are the currency used at Sunday Friends. The tickets are like money, which they earn for their contributions and participation, they save them in interest-bearing bank accounts, and redeem them for purchases at the Treasure Chest.

We made holiday badges. During the holidays, the Treasure Chest is stocked with toys and items for the parents. These decorated badges are worn by the shoppers and helps get them into the holiday spirit.

Making a Difference

Long term poverty is based upon experiences, beliefs, attitudes and habits, and our volunteer work for Sunday Friends was rewarding in knowing that our envelopes, badges and tickets will bring smiles the families and are a key part of the overall community experience that will help them transition together towards self-sufficiency.

If you want to engage and contribute to this organization you can join them for their upcoming Sunday Friends' annual Holiday Shopping Spree on November 11 and 18. Volunteers will come together to shop for the items that will stock the Treasure Chest store.