Freesia Chen, SHRM-SCP, is the Head of People at Fama. With over 15 years of expertise across the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, Freesia brings a wealth of perspectives to the HR profession. We discuss how Freesia’s experience in the nonprofit sector shaped her perspectives on community engagement and the role that companies can play in public service.
-> Related: Building a DE&I Initiative from the Ground Up with Freesia Chen, SHRM-SCP
What made you want to get into nonprofit work?
I got my start in human resources working in various for-profit organizations. After five years in the for-profit sector, I was ready for a change and realized I wanted to work for a company that was more in line with my personal values. That’s when I discovered a nonprofit healthcare organization in East Los Angeles that provides healthcare to anyone in the community regardless of their ability to pay.
What was it like working in nonprofit HR?
Nonprofit healthcare was a totally different work environment. Not only were the personalities of the employees different from what I had seen in the for-profit sector, but the culture of the area was new for me. I needed to learn to listen and understand this particular subculture of Los Angeles and collaborate with highly diverse groups of people.
But for all the adjustments, it was also a deeply enriching experience and I found a lot of meaning in the work. Our business cards had our mission statement on the back, so you'd never forget it. Serving the community was part of everything we did throughout the organization, and that applied to the HR department as well.
We didn't just stay in the office. We would go out to the clinics to support the doctors and staff. We would see people coming into the clinics who likely don’t have health insurance and couldn't afford to pay to see a doctor, which helps you know that what you do makes a difference. I was able to work for an organization that cares about its mission and saw it firsthand.
What were some of the challenges you faced in nonprofit work?
In nonprofits, it often takes a great deal of work just to get funding. There are lengthy and complex guidelines to follow and even with some technology solutions in place, funding remains a challenge and will always be a hurdle for many nonprofits.
That’s part of why volunteers have always been an essential need for nonprofit organizations. By partnering with local organizations, including some for-profit businesses, it becomes much easier to achieve the goals and objectives of the organization and it’s hard to do without the human capital that volunteers, including corporate volunteers, provide to the community.
How have you leveraged your work in nonprofits to your role here at Fama?
Working at various nonprofit organizations taught me how to listen to people's stories with an open mind. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and brings unique perspectives, and that experience has shaped how I work with employees at Fama. My years in the nonprofit sector are also helping us to find ways to serve the community, and I’m really excited about that.
Can you talk a little bit about our volunteer initiatives here at Fama?
It has always been important for Fama to give back to the community. Last year, Fama employees volunteered with a river cleanup program as part of an environmental initiative and supported 3 families through the Adopt-A-Family program around the holidays. This year, we’re working to further enable the social causes that matter most to our employees.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we realized that many people in our community had limited opportunities to even get food. We wanted to see if we could help, but there were several constraints due to the volunteer hours at the local food bank. Many volunteer organizations are looking for people to help out during regular working hours, and our employees aren’t usually able to do that since we all have work to do.
After the Black Lives Matter marches in June, we recognized it was time to act, and our leadership team came together to discuss how we could help. Everybody on the team was so inspired and wanted to ensure that Fama was supportive of this movement. We had several meetings about how to support our community, and Ben, Fama’s CEO, said, “whatever ideas you can come up with, I want everything on the table so we can all talk.”
Starting this year, Fama is providing its employees with paid volunteer hours for them to go out into the community and give back to local organizations. All of our employees will receive 40 hours of paid volunteer service annually. Those employees that choose to volunteer with racial justice organizations will receive an additional 10 hours of paid service each year. I think giving our employees time off to do this solidifies Fama’s commitment to building a better community.
What do you hope Fama employees will gain from these initiatives?
I certainly hope our employees gain personal fulfillment from doing something good for the community! But I also hope our employees understand the value Fama brings as a corporate citizen in this modern age, and learn and grow in the process. I think it benefits everybody to engage the greater community and begin to see the world through a different lens.
Volunteering with a community organization, whether it’s a food bank, a mentoring program, or a racial justice group, exposes you to different types of people, communities, and environments. It can help the volunteer begin to understand that there are major socioeconomic differences out there. That’s where real changes happen in a person’s perspective.
I’m proud to work for a company that not only prioritizes this but makes it easy for us to go out and do it. There’s a need for volunteers during work hours, so to have that paid time off is really cool.
That’s part of Fama’s commitment to being a community partner. Fama employees already have the drive to volunteer, and many of them have already been involved in community initiatives on their own time. We hope that by implementing this initiative, our employees can really step in and help make a difference.
Alex Scarr is a product specialist and contributing writer at Fama. He has served as a reporter for FOX Sports and the Los Angeles Daily News and has worked extensively in digital trust and safety, helping to make the internet a better place to collaborate, create, and connect.