Ricky Markiewicz is driven by his passions. As the owner of a small DJ business and a graduate student at Grand Valley State University, he sought out opportunities to use the skills that he had learned through his career and school to give back to the causes close to his heart.
"I want to know that some of my time, even if it's just a few hours during the week, is going to benefit someone who needs a hand," he says. "There is something satisfying about leaving a volunteer site or event knowing you tried to help others in your own unique way."
Ricky first learned about United Way while he was working at Farmers Insurance. “While I couldn’t give financially at the time, I was intrigued by the message and goal the United Way staff promoted,” he says. Years later, Ricky decided to contact Heart of West Michigan United Way’s Volunteer Center to help him local organizations that could use his help.
What community issues are you most passionate about, and how does United Way address those issues in our community?
The environment and social equality are two major concerns of mine. While obviously not just community issues, these are global problems, anything I can do to address the concerns is meaningful to me. For example, one of my volunteer sites, Oakdale Neighbors, provides tax preparation assistance to low-income individuals and families through United Way’s Kent County Tax Credit Coalition. While it may seem small to some, I know this helps to slightly improve social equality one person at a time. Another volunteer site, Boston Square Community Bikes, turns donations of old bikes, broken bikes, and bikes parts into low-cost, affordable bikes. More bikes on the road mean more sustainable transportation that has a minimal impact on our environment. Providing transportation, even if it is just a bicycle, can also help improve chances of employment, benefitting social equality.
When you give your time, what do you get back?
I can think of two things. First, a sense of value. I’m not a tax expert and know little to nothing about bike repair, however, by helping with the marketing, events, and social media for these organizations, I’m able to feel like I’m making a difference towards a common goal – community assistance. It’s great to know that if you develop what may seem like a niche or specific skill, such as crafting social media posts, you can still lend a hand to an organization that, on the surface, has nothing to do with that skill. Second, the opportunity to interact with people in my area who are outside of my everyday social circles - from neighborhood residents concerned about gentrification to retired businessmen who love working on bicycles.
The United Way connected me with these organizations, both of which were previously unknown to me, that have missions I’m passionate about and are only a few blocks from my house. In other words, without United Way, I may have never known about these opportunities to help.
This interview has been edited and condensed.