News & Views

Meet Our Staff: Kerry Coughlin

“One of my favorite things is when Philly Neighbors develop strong friendships with the clients they’re working with, and stay in touch for years to come”
-Kerry Coughlin, Community Engagement Specialist

We spoke with Kerry Coughlin, our Community Engagement Specialist, about what her role at HIAS PA means to her. Read the extended interview below!

What is your role at HIAS Pennsylvania?
As the Community Engagement Specialist, I oversee our volunteer program, our in-kind donation partnerships and procedures, a few of our community partnerships, and then some of our client-facing events.

What brought you to the organization?
In college I had the opportunity to volunteer at the US-Mexico border with the humanitarian aid organization “No More Deaths”, and that was a really eye-opening experience for me, which led me to think more critically about US immigration policy and sparked my interest in working in these kinds of agencies. I was able to work with a few different refugee resettlement and immigration agencies, but most recently I interned with HIAS PA’s Citizenship team during my social work program, getting my Master’s in Social Work (MSW), which was a really fantastic experience, so when a position as the Community Engagement Specialist opened up shortly afterward, I was thrilled. HIAS PA had been an organization that I had long admired, and I was really excited to have this opportunity.

Why do you do what you do?
I was raised to be really active in my community and to value volunteering from a young age. I remember when I was young walking dogs at the Humane Society with my mom, or doing different community events with the Girl Scouts, so it’s always something I’ve really valued, but as I’ve grown, I’ve developed a more critical lens of myself as a volunteer and started to think more about my role in organizations and organizations’ role in supporting volunteers, and volunteers play such a crucial role in organizations, so it’s really important that they’re vetted, trained, and supported, and that there’s continued conversations around power dynamics and working with vulnerable folks. I’ve really enjoyed my own journey as a volunteer, and have grown as a volunteer myself, and now have the opportunity to apply some of these lessons to managing our volunteer program at HIAS PA.

What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day – there isn’t one, but I spend a lot of my day communicating with active and potential volunteers, answering questions, providing support, troubleshooting issues, and matching volunteers to different opportunities in our agency. I also meet with staff and participate in team meetings to assess our needs and see if we can utilize our community resources, or if we need to form new partnerships to address these needs. Some of my favorite work is serving on our committees, and I have the luxury of overseeing two of our event committees. I also attend community events where I speak about HIAS PA, or provide orientations and trainings to our volunteers. In my downtime, I assess processes and see what we can do better, and get feedback from volunteers about our different systems.

What is one interaction you’ll remember rest of your life?
Some of my favorite work is getting to work with our Philly Neighbors, one of our volunteer roles. I feel like I learn a lot from them, from their empathy, humility, and insight, and every time I have the opportunity to interact with them and see what they’re doing, it’s always one of my favorite parts of my day or week. One of my favorite things is when Philly Neighbors develop strong friendships with the clients they’re working with, and stay in touch for years to come, and I love checking in with folks and seeing how they’re doing years beyond their volunteering time.

What is the most meaningful part of your position?
I think the most meaningful part of my position is this opportunity to help bridge the gap between what we do within the agency, and with the larger community. Especially within the past few years there’s been a huge outpouring of support for our work, and so many folks are eager to get involved and they bring so much to the table, and I love being able to work with them and connect them to our staff, and help to create this relationship between the two.

What is some advice you would give to volunteers?
I definitely encourage you to do so! Think about your skill set and look at the different opportunities we have and think about how it builds in. Some of our most successful volunteers are able to utilize the prior experiences and skills they already have. However, I’m more than thrilled to have a conversation with anyone, and learn about you and find out where you might fit within our organization.

What is your favorite thing to eat in Philly?
Everything! I live in West Philly, so I’m surrounded by a lot of really good cuisine that I love, but even though it’s across the city, I’ll make the trip anytime to Port Richmond to get pierogi from Green Rock Tavern, because I love pierogi.