The Who I Am Foundation promotes community-oriented volunteering

The nonprofit aims to provide resources where communities need them most

Students looking for an opportunity to volunteer in their communities may find that they’re well suited for a developing organization in Phoenix.

The Who I Am Foundation is a nonprofit that began in Albuquerque, New Mexico and has since spread to cities throughout the United States. It has been in Phoenix for a year and a half. 

Who I Am focuses on providing the resources and volunteers where communities need them most. Each city has a board of about 10 volunteers who meet and decide what projects Who I Am will undertake in that area.

In Phoenix, the group works extensively with the homeless population. Volunteers distribute care packages with various items including food, water, socks and hygiene products, two to three times a month. Distributions are hosted at different locations around the Valley. They also hold a new drive every month to benefit different families and organizations.

Alishia Stein, a recent ASU graduate, started volunteering with the organization in fall 2015. She was drawn in by the work the group does with the homeless population.

“A lot of people are very disheartening towards the homeless in our community, and they don’t realize that a lot of them are mentally ill and unstable, and the hospitals couldn’t keep them because they didn’t have insurance or their families couldn’t pay for the services,” Stein said.

Stein has helped with donation pickups, distributions, Thanksgiving meals and a health and wellness fair. Stein said she likes that Who I Am doesn’t wait for donations to come to them.

“When donations run low, Who I Am is going out and picking up donations rather than having people bring them to them,” she said. “They’re making more of an effort to get the donations so that they can hand them out.

The dedicated effort made by the volunteers of the Who I Am Foundation is made further clear by the people who run the organization.

Anthony Freeman is the Vice President of the Who I Am Foundation and was formerly homeless. Freeman had been sharing an apartment when his roommate stole everything Freeman had and moved to Mexico. 

Freeman lived on the street until he met Who I Am founder, Keith Collier, who invited him out for coffee. Collier called his wife that day and offered Freeman, a near stranger, a place to live. By June 2013 he held his current position with the nonprofit.

Freeman said his experience with homelessness permanently altered his life outlook.

“Not everyone who is less fortunate has some type of addiction or did something bad in their life to put them in that position,” Freeman said. “There are a lot of good people in bad situations.”

The Who I Am Foundation also gave Freeman a much-desired opportunity to give back to the community.

“I’ve always had a philanthropic mindset and always wanted to give back but, kinda like most people, I didn’t know how to or where to go,” Freeman said. “Who I Am Foundation basically allowed me that opportunity. I kinda vowed that when I was in a position to help, I would do my part.”

The foundation recently hosted their Thanksgiving Day drive and quarterly meal. According to Freeman, volunteers handed out over 170 plates and were able to donate 50 food boxes to Chicanos Por La Casa. The next big project the group is working on is their annual toy drive. The foundation hopes to collect and donate at least 200 new and packaged toys to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Armando Grillo, the Arizona executive director, was drawn to Who I Am because of how community-focused the organization is. At distributions, Grillo walks around the area with one to two volunteers and lets people in the area know what the organization is doing. When he finds people in need of care packages that are unable to get to the pickup location, volunteers deliver the packages personally. 

Grillo said he enjoys interacting so closely with the community.

“Once we hit the ground and we’re doing what we do, the amount of appreciation from the community, the amount of recognition from people that wanna see things happen in the community, it’s pretty neat,” Grillo said.

Grillo found the Who I Am Foundation after volunteering for other organizations and finding that none of them offered quite as much versatility in volunteer opportunities. Grillo said he enjoys the organization’s ability to choose what it does and who it helps.

“What I find we provide, when I was on the ground, hands-on, in the beginning, is that it’s literally a group of people that finally found the vehicle to give back the way they want to give back, if that makes sense,” he said. “So the volunteers actually get to help who and what and where they want to do.”

The foundation hopes to open a center in the near future with free daycare, a thrift store, a job skills area and after-school tutoring. With all of the upcoming and existing opportunities, Stein encourages people of all ages to volunteer in their communities.

“In school, I think you’re very fortunate to get to go to school and you’re learning everyday something new but going out into the community and doing volunteer work gives you a realization that not everybody has had the opportunities that you have,” she said.


Reach the reporter at cdhenry@asu.edu or follow @carlyhenry_on Twitter.

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