When you volunteer to help others, the life that might be changed the most could be your own

Stasia Lopez's picture

As a Massachusetts native who relocated to Pittsburgh in 2013, Deb Hopkins spent more than two decades in New England focusing on leveraging the energy and passion of dedicated volunteers to create meaningful change in the community. She served as the Executive Director of three organizations that relied heavily upon volunteer resources to improve the quality of life for at-risk children – CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children), Junior Achievement, and Girls Inc. (formerly known as Girls Club of America).  

Deb is a graduate of the University of Connecticut – which is where she first began volunteering on the Rape Crisis Hotline. She has continued to actively volunteer throughout her entire career with organizations such as the United Way of Central Massachusetts, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the YWCA, The Children’s Heart Foundation, and Mended Little Hearts. She is the Executive Director of Pittsburgh Cares.

An interview with Deb Hopkins of Pittsburgh Cares: When you volunteer to help others, the life that might be changed the most could be your own

How did you choose your major in college? How did you choose the college[s] you chose? Did you have a mentor or person who helped guide you through that process? 

Like most college students, finances played a big role in my decision. I didn’t want to graduate with a lot of debt, so I decided to enroll as a Theater Major at the University of Connecticut where I was fortunate enough to have received a full performing arts scholarship. While I really didn’t aspire to become a professional actress, my guidance counselor (high school mentor) helped me to understand that the scholarship presented an amazing opportunity for me to attend a great school and graduate debt-free. While I was there, I took advantage of taking as many psychology and business courses as I possibly could.

Did you always want to work in nonprofit/NGO work? 

I always knew that I wanted to do something in the helping professions, but it really wasn’t until I began volunteering and seeing first-hand the impact that nonprofits make in people’s lives that I decided that this was what I wanted to do.

What are some of the challenges about your job? How do you tackle those challenges?

Fundraising is challenge for most nonprofit organizations. There are never enough resources to meet all of the emerging needs in the community. Fundraising for an organization that focuses exclusively on volunteerism is particularly difficult because there is often a perception that there aren’t (or shouldn’t be) any costs associated with placing volunteers in the community. I spend a considerable amount of my time raising funds for the supplies that are needed to complete community projects – and to make sure that Pittsburgh Cares is able to maintain a great team of highly professional and experienced staff members to support the matching and supervision of volunteers. 

What is the interview process like for this organization? Any tips for interns or people seeking a job with the organization?

My interview for the Pittsburgh Cares executive director’s position was with the entire staff and board of directors. There were probably about twenty people in the room asking me questions, but it was actually a very positive experience. I learned so much about the organization just based on the different questions that people asked. My biggest piece of advice is to always come to an interview prepared with well thought-out questions of your own. Your questions not only demonstrate that you have researched the organization and are genuinely interested – but they will also guide you in terms of making sure that the job will be the right fit for you. 

An interview with Deb Hopkins of Pittsburgh Cares: When you volunteer to help others, the life that might be changed the most could be your own

What do you currently do to achieve work/life balance? Any advice for students, graduates, and entry-level professionals that you could provide?

Prioritize! Prioritize! Prioritize! Your time is valuable and it should be treated as one of your most valuable commodities. I begin each week by making a list of what absolutely needs to accomplished before the end of the week, what I’d love to accomplish if time allows, and what can either wait or be delegated to someone else. When I first began my career as an executive director, I was horrible at delegating. Like many recent college grads trying to prove themselves, I felt as though I had to do it all myself and I had to have all of the answers myself. This was such a disservice on so many levels. I missed out on opportunities to mentor and teach others how to lead – and I missed out on the valuable insights that my staff members had to offer. After a couple of years of trying to be superwoman, I realized that the greatest results truly achieved by a team effort. Now, I pride myself on being highly collaborative and encouraging my team to take on new challenges.

What are the benefits/perks of your job?

I get to work directly with nearly all of the nonprofits in Allegheny County – and I interact on a daily basis with the most diverse groups of volunteers that one can imagine. Every day is a completely different experience at Pittsburgh Cares. One day, I might be leading a group of college students in sorting donated toys for the Toys for Tots program. The next day, I could be working alongside several hundred volunteers from local companies renovating ball fields and community playgrounds. Not only is this the best job in the world for someone who likes variety and welcomes new challenges, it’s also ideally suited for a newcomer to the area who wants to learn as much about the community as quickly as possible.

Anything else you’d like to share?

If you’re presented with an opportunity to volunteer, please don’t pass it up! Volunteering can help you develop skills to advance your career. It can help you build your network and your access to mentors and references. And most importantly – when you volunteer to help others, the life that might be changed the most could very well be your own!

An interview with Deb Hopkins of Pittsburgh Cares: When you volunteer to help others, the life that might be changed the most could be your own

About Pittsburgh Cares:

Founded in 1992, Pittsburgh Cares is a nonprofit affiliate of the HandsOn Network and Points of Light Institute. As the region’s primary volunteer mobilizer, Pittsburgh Cares seeks first and foremost to strengthen and expand capacity within the local nonprofit sector, while cultivating a culture of community engagement and service. We provide charitable organizations with the resources needed to establish robust volunteer programs to help advance their missions. When the effective allocation of resources occurs, the capacity of our nonprofit partners is enhanced, allowing short and long-term solutions to be established to address the region’s most pressing social issues.

During the most recent fiscal year, Pittsburgh Cares facilitated nearly 12,000 volunteer connections, resulting in 62,000 service hours performed at more than 300 nonprofit agencies. This represents an estimated $1.34 million in, in-kind labor that our volunteers contributed to the region’s nonprofit sector.

Learn more: http://www.pittsburghcares.org/


Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.


All photos courtesy and copyright Deb Hopkins