Lots of people volunteer their time, but few make a career from it, unless your name is Popy Dimoulas-Graham. Popy, an active volunteer since she was 12, founded an organization to help volunteers share their experiences with a charity or non-profit, all from the volunteer’s perspective. It’s called Charity Republic.
“Charity Republic has changed my life,” says Popy. “It has opened my world because I am now so involved in my community. When I started, I challenged myself to ‘get uncomfortable’ (one of my mantras) to become more active in the region.” As a result, she has made lifelong friends, is an engaged citizen and a happier person.
Popy has volunteered around the world in health care settings, orphanages and homeless shelters (and of course in Waterloo Region too). When she returned to Waterloo several years ago, Popy asked everyone she met for referrals of interesting places to volunteer. The idea for this charity peer-to-peer service grew.
Popy splits her time as a public health epidemiologist. After feeling pigeon-holed in this scientific role for years, she loves the freedom and creativity that comes with running a startup, especially in an entrepreneurship hub like the University of Waterloo’s VeloCity Garage, where she now has a work space. “I get to experiment with ideas all of the time; figure out what works and what doesn’t,” she says. “And meet great people who inspire me.” Charity Republic also feeds her curious nature: she learns why people do things and what makes a good volunteer experience.
Earlier this year, she and a friend, fellow community volunteer Robb Fargo, had a big idea: host the world’s first Ignite event focused on the best of charity culture and passion in Waterloo Region. Thus Ignite Charity was born. Based on the extremely popular Ignite event series concept – 20 slides auto-advancing every 15 seconds for a total of five minutes – Popy, Robb and over 20 volunteers got busy planning and on September 12, 2012, 14 speakers dazzled a captive audience, sharing thought-provoking topics on all things charity.
“We had a phenomenal reaction to the event,” says a smiling Popy. “People felt inspired and motivated to get involved in their community. That’s exactly the reaction we wanted: to get people thinking and talking.”
Building on its success, you can expect a second Ignite Charity in 2013. In the meantime, you can keep up with Popy via Charity Republic’s Facebook or Twitter accounts. Or post your own volunteer experience review.
P.S. Popy’s favourite topic of conversation: other people.