Vivien Schweitzer in Athens Square, Astoria. Photo: Maria Eliades
CIANA Board Member Vivien Schweitzer is a journalist, pianist and author whose book, A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera, was released in September 2018. She got involved first as a volunteer teaching civics and ESL and then joined CIANA’s board. Communications and Programs Manager Maria Eliades chats with Schweitzer about her CIANA journey and why she fundraises on behalf of CIANA.
Maria Eliades: How did you first hear about CIANA?
Vivien Schweitzer: I found it on Volunteermatch.com after I moved to Astoria and was looking for something local to get involved with. So I emailed Emira Habiby Browne, the founder and executive director, met her, and started teaching ESL three years ago. I switched to civics at one point and then joined the board in March 2018. I still teach ESL.
ME: Is there an eagerness to learn in the classes?
VS: I think there's definitely an eagerness to learn. Even if their English isn’t great, the students really make an effort to master immensely difficult vocabulary and concepts in the civics classes. Some of them have a fairly low level of education from their home countries, and now they’re not only tackling challenging material in a foreign language but they’re also studying material that the vast majority of Americans don’t know either. You can really tell that they’re putting in an effort to learn.
ME: What inspired you to become a board member in addition to teaching?
VS: I guess I was curious. I’ve never been on a board before, and I was interested to see how it all works, what boards do, and how nonprofits are run.
It’s one thing coming in once a week as a volunteer and another being on a board and looking at budgets. I’d never done that before. You realize that there are a lot of pieces of the pie that come together even in a small nonprofit.
ME: Had you volunteered before with other organizations prior to moving to Astoria?
VS: I had done various volunteer things and I still occasionally volunteer at a homeless shelter run by the Quakers in Manhattan. My parents did a lot of volunteering, and I went to a school that really encouraged volunteering, so I grew up thinking that it was a worthwhile thing to do.
ME: Can you talk about some of the challenges that CIANA has gone through in your time here?
VS: I think it’s hard for volunteers to commit to something that's ongoing, especially if they are working. I would love to be here every week, but sometimes I just can’t get here in the day because of my work schedule. So I think the lack of continuity with the volunteers and the endless fundraising to try to cobble together the basics is a real challenge.