Yoo-Mi Lee: ServiceSpace Coordinator Extraordinaire

Posted by Bela Shah on Oct 26, 2011
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During this past Saturday’s forest call, we were excited to have one of the original ServiceSpace volunteers, Yoo-Mi Lee, join us as the guest speaker.  Yoo-Mi is a core volunteer and has been with ServiceSpace since 1999!

As we usually do on these calls, we all took a few minutes to check-in with each other about our week and any share any special reflections. Parth compared his week to finals week in college.  With endless deadlines approaching on several projects that he is volunteering his time for, he experienced both break downs and break-throughs.  While the deadlines are still looming, Parth has been able to move through each project by reminding himself of the original intention and larger purpose.  Shreya shared her remarkable mentoring activities that are inspiring youth to become agents of change.  I shared insights gained from the guest speaker at this past week’s Wednesday gathering in DC.

Amit shared how sometimes he has frustration in that his work life and other commitments that don’t seem to naturally allow for opportunities to tag or serve others so easily. But then he realized that sometimes those opportunities are right under his nose. He shared a story about earlier that day involving a beautiful Saturday morning surprise that he orchestrated with the assistance of a little four-year old helper =).  Amit is currently living with a family and Saturday was the birthday of the mother (who Amit sees like his own sister).  After creating a delicious spread of breakfast treats and two dozen roses, he had the little boy wake her mother with a single stemmed rose and as she came down the stairs husband, son and Amit did a little bhangra dance for her.  Throughout breakfast, the family sang her happy birthday four times!

Then we turned our fully undivided attention to our lovely guest speaker of the week – Yoo-Mi Lee. Amit planted the seed questions of asking Yoo-Mi to tell us a little about herself and to describe her service journey at ServiceSpace and namely tell us what she considered some of the milestones of inner change along that journey. Yoo-Mi was born in South Korea but lived there only a few years before heading to Uganda when she was five. Then, over time, life brought her to a number of places including New York (the Bronx), the San Francisco bay area and Vancouver. She held a variety of jobs from the business world and wall street which she eventually felt disillusioned by. She then held a number of roles in the non-profit world providing management and fundraising expertise.

Then, one fine day over 12 years ago, a friend shared a posting on Craigslist about a volunteer group seeking to provide free web services to nonprofit organizations. The announcement included an upcoming date for their first open volunteer meeting and, out of curiosity, Yoo-Mi took the first step on her Service Space journey and decided to attend.  Little did she know that she was entering through the point of no return!  After meeting the original founding visionaries Nipun, Viral, Guri, Trishna, Ashish, and a few others for the first time, Yoo-Mi was struck by how young everyone was. Having come from a rich background in NGO management and development as well as the business world, she felt that she would have a lot of useful insight to offer to this young team.  She shared a very interesting but remarkably revealing dialogue she had with Nipun at that meeting (paraphrased):

Yoo-Mi:  I love what you guys are proposing to do and I can leverage my past experience to help you fundraise.

Nipun: But what would we do with the money?

Yoo-Mi (sounding a bit-confused): What do you mean what would we do with the money? How about office space, phones, supplies, etc.?

Nipun: We don't need an office space because we work virtually and can work from our homes, internet cafes and anywhere we have an internet connection or can gather.

Yoo-Mi: Well, we could at least use money for our advertising/marketing campaigns where we can show volunteering hours, how to monetize our efforts to good causes, etc.

Nipun: We'll just serve with what we have.

And from there the discussion went on like this with others asking similar questions, but, by the end of the meeting, all the attendees realized that this was a completely different kind of “organization” and that these new friends were trying to co-create something beautiful with all of us there. When Yoo-Mi was asked during the Q&A portion of the call how she avoided “writing them off” as a bunch of young kids who were just idealists who didn’t understand the “real world” she responded: “They had answers for every single question. Their answers, when you really thought about it, made absolute sense. They graciously listened intently to each question and then carefully provided a response which you could tell was very well thought-out and deeply resonated with their core values (see also this talk at Stanford). Those same core values and guiding principles still hold very true today and serve as a pillar for the organization.”

Since that first meeting, Yoo-Mi’s idea of service has been challenged along the way, or as she puts it, “a monkey wrench is thrown into her service path from time to time challenging her to step things up.”  She has risen to every need and the impact, the experience of inner transformation and (r)evolution of perspective, still continues to this day.  Like all of us, Yoo-Mi is evolving and changing along her service journey…but more than a decade of dedicated service to Charity Focus/Service Space has resulted in a wealth of wisdom that she happily shared with us that day.

In 2005, Yoo-Mi had a major “Ah-ha” moment where she realized that any of the jobs she spent time at over the years she either became dissatisfied with or they no longer continued to fully align with her values. She decided that she would give/gift away as much of her time as possible to the one space that clearly aligned with her deepest values and since CharityFocus had been the one consistent project in her life, she became a “full-time” volunteer of ServiceSpace.

Yoo-Mi has touched so many projects along the journey from CF-Sites to ProPoor to KarmaTube. She is currently one of the core anchors/volunteers for KarmaTube and it was interesting to understand the inner workings of the website volunteer team.  They voluntarily work together on a daily basis to bring new and inspiring videos and Be-the-Change ideas to an ever expanding audience.  Determining which videos to share involves a delicate balance between considering the larger purpose of Karma Tube and ServiceSpace, and also allowing space for an organic process of inner transformation to take place among the viewers.  She shared how she preferred sending individual email responses to viewers who submitted comments or questions rather than send a template response as each of those email exchanges allowed her to grow. She shared a story of how the most unlikely email exchange and selection process of a “Video of the Week” (VOW) called "Elephants Never Forget" led to it becoming one of the highest viewed videos on KarmaTube in a very short time. The same mindfulness and effort goes into the thoughtful “Be-the-Change” ideas that accompany each video as well…one has to deeply think about which ideas will resonate while also help to catalyze an organic process of change?  

Yoo-Mi definitely increased our awareness of all the thought, time, and energy that is devoted to KarmaTube, DailyGood, and HelpOthers on a voluntary basis.  Having this awareness increased my gratitude for these beautiful gems. I can’t remember how many times a Karma Tube video or a Daily Good story completely shifted my perspective on the day ahead of me or behind me, bringing me back to the present moment.  And I was amazed to learn that some of the volunteers for KarmaTube are not even in high school yet! 

Along her service path, Yoo-Mi has taken another unexpected turn by completely shifting her life in order to take care of the daughter of a friend – a 15 year old girl from Japan who faces her own set of challenges.  Realizing that his daughter would not have a fair chance if she were to spend the rest of her life in Japan, the friend asked Yoo-Mi for a huge favor: would she be able to host and care for the girl?  For someone who has not raised children and then all of a sudden to inherit/adopt a teenager is a life-challenging/changing experience. But Yoo-Mi is a service “veteran” – she notes, raising a child is a true embodiment of what it means to service. A thought that we are sure all you wonderful mothers out there know all too well.

Yoo-Mi closed out the call by sharing what she had gratitude for: “I am really incredibly grateful for the ServiceSpace community.  Each person, most of whom I do not know, touches me every single day. Because I have worked with the community for so long - I know how much work it takes to put a DailyGood on everyday or how to keep HelpOthers so vibrant or the millions of tech changes that happen in a single day – all I have to do is send a tech a quick email and boom an issue is fixed in minutes.  I am so grateful for what everyone does, even people I don't even hear from because the ecosystem works so magically – it really does feed my soul and keep me going.”

In  deed Yoo-Mi, and you keep us all going as well with your acts and words of inspiration.

[This article is a reflection of the 8th and latest "Forest Call" - a weekly Circle of Sharing of individuals who gather from all over the globe. This past week Yoo-Mi joined us from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, while other past guests and participants in the past have called in from India, the UK and across the U.S. and Canada.  You are welcome to join us next week.]

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Comments (11)

  • Trishna wrote ...

    Thanks for sharing with us Bela, these write-ups are so inspiring for those of us who couldn't make the call! And Yooms, thanks for being the rock that you are in the SS community :)

  • Pavi wrote ...

    What a stunning recap. Love the image of the 4-year old with the single-stemmed rose doing a birthday bhangra :) And Yoo-Mi's beautiful articulation of her service journey bring alive not just CF/SS "history" but the core of what it's all about. Thank you Bela for capturing it all so wonderfully for the rest of us!

  • Peter wrote ...

    Excellent! Yoo-mi, you rock!!! :)

  • Prakash wrote ...

    Wow! -- this is beautiful :-), thank you Yoo-mi, Bela and you all forest dwellers :-)

    Happy Deepavali! :-)

    With Light & Love,

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