HR practitioner turned matchmaker for volunteers: Wee Wah Meng shares how she’s moved on from breaking rice bowls to rebuilding lives
Ms Wee’s career pivot to the social service sector, where she recruits volunteers to plug service gaps in the community, has brought about great fulfilment and joy.
Photo by: Caroline Chia | Words by: Melody Zaccheus
As a human resource practitioner, Ms Wee Wah Meng often found herself the bearer of bad news. “I had to tell people they were getting laid off, even flying overseas for retrenchment exercises. It was heartbreaking and distressing work — I was involved in breaking rice bowls,” she said.
In 2016, she left the corporate world behind, pivoting instead to the social service sector. Now, Ms Wee, spends her days rebuilding lives.
As head of AMKFSC Community Services’ SG Cares Volunteer Centre at Ang Mo Kio, Sengkang and Punggol”, she uses her human resource skills, such as talent management, to recruit and match volunteers to suitable service roles in the community. “It is dangerous to speak to me,” said Ms Wee with a twinkle in her eyes. “I am known among my staff as rather bold and daring. If I see a spark in someone, or a skill that can be tapped and shared, I will persuade them to join us as a volunteer.”
Ms Wee said her family has noticed a marked difference in her mood. Indeed, there’s now a spring in Ms Wee’s step, and her winning smile is infectious. “My children say that I’m much happier and have never looked more fulfilled. I used to come home stressed, or I’d have numbers to crunch and a budget report to push out. Now, I always have an inspiring or meaningful story to share about my community of residents and volunteers.”
Managing an army of volunteers
Volunteer management at AMKFSC Community Services, which operates four family service centres in Ang Mo Kio, Sengkang and Punggol, is a mammoth task.
To begin with, the social service agency runs a gamut of programmes for thousands of children, youths, families, and seniors.
To bolster and value-add to its offerings, it relies on an army of 3,000 volunteers to power programmes such as tutoring initiatives, sports and craft sessions, as well as the organisation and execution of outings and learning journeys, said Ms Wee.
In 2020, NCSS approached the social service agency to participate in its Volunteer Management Capability Development programme to further strengthen its capabilities in the area.
Ms Wee and her team worked on a five-year volunteer management strategy for matters such as volunteer training, engagement, appreciation and retention. “The programme has been vital for us as we manage a diverse group of volunteers across multiple touchpoints,” said Ms Wee.
In addition, the NCSS programme highlighted the need for a clearer career roadmap for the centre’s volunteer executives and coordinators, she said.
Ms Wee is also a NCSS Volunteer Management Champion. Under this programme, she provides crucial tips, support, and advice to her mentees — volunteer managers from other social service agencies.
Going the extra mile
Underpinning Ms Wee’s approach to volunteerism — she believes there is a volunteer in everyone — is a burning desire to foster and nurture the kampung spirit. “It doesn’t matter if you’re disadvantaged or wealthy. Everyone has assets and talents which can uplift the community,” she said.
She cited the example of a collaborative food distribution project initiated by social workers from AMKFSC Community Services, and how market stall vendors in Ang Mo Kio, as well as volunteers in the role of distributors, have taken the initiative to the next level.
Twice a month, market stall vendors donate their unsold produce to those in need. The goal: improve beneficiaries’ diets and complement their dry rations pantry comprising items such as rice, instant noodles and biscuits. A good number of vendors were game to participate. Volunteers who were roped in to distribute the items, went the extra mile by snipping off old leaves and stems, and giving the fruits a polish. They also shared recipes and healthy eating tips with beneficiaries. It ended up feeling like a mini farmer’s market, said Ms Wee. “Our volunteers didn’t want beneficiaries to feel like they were just there to collect leftovers,” she explained.
The programme has made a great difference in the lives of recipients. In one case, it was the first time a young boy had seen an apple. “He had asked the volunteer what the fruit was. We learnt that up till that point, he had never seen and tasted an apple. His sole reference point for the fruit had been apple juice drink packs from McDonalds,” she said.
When it comes to corporate partners who might shy away from direct work with beneficiaries such as children or seniors, Ms Wee’s team tailor-makes training programmes to embolden and empower them in their interactions. “We present case studies and run through conversation starters and things to avoid saying. The aim is to impart tact and confidence so that volunteers have the option of going beyond monetary donations and packing ration bags.”
Summing up her journey as an advocate for volunteerism, Ms Wee said she finds it heartening when people tell her they’ve enjoyed their time interacting with beneficiaries and fellow volunteers. “I try to give them a chance to experience social service and see for themselves what community needs are like,” she said. “To me, I am the link, a matchmaker, and the bridge.”
If you or your corporate organisation are keen to learn more about how you can start volunteering, visit our Volunteer Resource Hub.
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