March 4, 2024

Every Thursday, NECC student Aliaz volunteers at Project Just Because Inc. (PJB) in Hopkinton. PJB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that individuals receive essential items such as food, clothing, hygiene products, and household necessities.

During his two-hour shift, Aliaz takes responsibility for replenishing both individual and bulk items in the food pantry and assisting in breaking down boxes. Aliaz is just one of several NECC students who are actively acquiring essential social and vocational skills through this volunteer experience.

Since February 2023, NECC students have volunteered at PJB. Presently, four students volunteer on a regular basis to support PJB’s mission. Over the course of the partnership with PJB, 10 NECC students have taken part in diverse volunteer activities, including regular shifts at the warehouse.

“Engaging in volunteer work at Project Just Because provides NECC students with the opportunity to apply and enhance their vocational skills,” said Julie LeBlanc, an NECC vocational specialist. “These experiences allow our students to practice soft skills, which are valuable in any work environment. Additionally, it provides our students with opportunities to sample jobs outside of NECC. Job sampling is an important part of identifying preferences for work, strengths, and interests.”

Amy Hartland, executive assistant and volunteer coordinator for PJB, shared that the organization’s overarching goal is simple yet powerful: to provide every person that walks in the door with what they need. This includes NECC student volunteers.

“It is important for the NECC students to volunteer at Project Just Because because it gives them a learning experience in the community,” she explained, adding that the daily tasks students perform can improve their vocational and social skills while giving them confidence.

In addition to Aliaz, Andrew, JD, and Shaw volunteer as a group two times per month. Their involvement includes a variety of tasks such as organizing clothing items, packaging pet food, and crafting holiday cards. They are supported during their shift by NECC teachers, who are trained as job coaches.

“Without the help of volunteers such as the NECC students, we would not be able to help as many clients as we do,” shared Hartland. “At the moment, we are helping over 900 clients a week. Our shelves need to constantly be restocked, empty boxes broken down, and even apples needing to be bagged. If we do not have volunteers to help us with these tasks, then the clients are not able to get the much-needed food.”
The partnership between NECC students and PJB exemplifies the positive impact that volunteerism can have on both individuals and the community. Through their dedicated efforts, these students are not only helping those in need but also developing essential skills that will benefit them in their future endeavors.

“Soft skills, including communication, problem-solving, flexibility, and utilizing natural supports, are crucial for preparing students for their transition to adulthood and future work experiences,” said LeBlanc. “Volunteering not only serves as a platform for gaining practical work experience but also enables students to make a meaningful contribution to their community.”