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Volunteer Spotlight: Verna Kuo of the National Charity League

Get involved however you can — whether it’s in small ways like delivering groceries to the families — or big things, like creating a fun run fundraiser. The great thing is that Home & Hope has the support, tools, and opportunities that will help you be successful in whatever way you choose to participate.

Home & Hope volunteers truly make a difference in the lives of our guest families. Over the years, more than 1,000 people have contributed their time, compassion, and commitment to helping families lift themselves out of homelessness and create a new life.

One volunteer in particular is the focus of this volunteer spotlight: Verna Kuo. Verna is the liaison between the National Charity League (NCL): Crystal Springs Chapter and Home & Hope. She has given her time, effort, and energy to create change and move us forward into a future without homelessness.

Verna, tell us a little about yourself.

Verna: I grew up in the heartland in a town just outside of Indianapolis. Both my parents were professors at Purdue University, so I grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment, for which I’m grateful. When I graduated from high school, I came out to the Bay Area to undertake my undergraduate studies at Stanford. Once I got my B.A. in Public Policy, I continued on to graduate school and earned my MBA, also from Stanford. Moving to the Bay Area and completing my education definitely changed my life.

Obviously, I fell in love with the Bay Area, and after over 20 years, I’m still loving it and still deeply involved in my community through the National Charity League and other nonprofits for which I volunteer.

I own a consulting business working with universities and foundations to invest their endowments.

When did you get involved with Home & Hope?

Verna: It’s funny how, through happenstance, your life and the lives of people around you can change. That happened with Home & Hope.

Home & Hope’s annual gift wrap fundraiser was underway, and my daughter and I decided to volunteer through NCL to wrap presents. We both had such a great time — wrapping presents for a great cause, meeting and talking with Home & Hope board members, and hearing about all the great work that Home & Hope was doing in San Mateo County for families challenged with homelessness.

From then on, I wanted to help Home & Hope families in whatever ways I could. I specifically requested that NCL assign me to be their liaison to Home & Hope.

What attracted you to the cause of helping the homeless?

Verna: I’ve always been interested in figuring out how we can address the issue of homelessness in our communities — I believe that having a safe place to call home is a fundamental human right. I started to take more direct action when I was in college and got involved in the Stanford Homelessness Action Coalition (now Night Outreach); we were committed to homeless advocacy and being “on the ground” helping people who were living in shelters or on the streets. I also took part in demonstrations that brought homeless issues to the forefront of community conversation and I volunteered for, and lived in, a large homeless shelter in DC, called CCNV (The Community for Creative Nonviolence).

Since then, I’ve been getting more and more involved in social change issues. After college, I lived in DC and helped to start the AmeriCorps National Service program which sends people, power, and funding to communities across the country. Through AmeriCorps, I was fortunate enough to work with national nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that helps families build places to call home in order to create strong and stable communities and YouthBuild, a nonprofit that primarily serves young people who lack a high school diploma and financial resources and provides opportunities to build skill sets and mindsets that lead to lifelong learning, livelihood, and leadership.

There’s something humbling about seeing people just like you and me faced with incredible challenges like being homeless. With the help of the community, these people have a support network that enables them to overcome those challenges.

What do you like to do when you’re not working on social change issues? 

I’m a big hiker and love the outdoors — I even hiked Machu Picchu, which was a huge thrill. And before the pandemic, I was an avid international traveler. I find it endlessly fascinating experiencing other cultures — seeing their history, architecture, art, and faiths. These trips have not only helped me understand other cultures, but they’ve also helped me understand myself and my role in making the world a better place.

What motivates you to stay involved with volunteering and with Home & Hope? 

Verna: It’s the other people involved… the volunteers and families in the program. What a great group of people! By creating connection and community together, we can create something bigger than ourselves. That’s incredibly powerful.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that Home & Hope does?

Verna: Wow, so many things! Of course, the emergency shelter program. It has the services and support that enable families to get a new chance for a stable and safe home. But there’s one thing in particular that stands out for me: it’s the humanity that the organization and volunteers embody. It’s not a typical clinical approach — the families we help aren’t “clients” but guests who we have the privilege of supporting. That kind of reframe really encourages a stronger connection between us and with Home & Hope families.

Why do you volunteer?

Verna: I’ve just always done it — it’s part of my DNA. For me, it’s about giving back, about leaving the world in a better state than I found it. I also volunteer because, by coming together, I see that we’re all capable of achieving incredible things — more so than we could’ve achieved individually. Sometimes, it can feel like all the problems in the world are just too big. But by volunteering, I can create change — even if it’s just incremental change — every single day. And imagine if everyone did that. The world would be a very different place.

Of what contribution or achievement are you most proud?

Verna: Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, we [The National Charity League] had a holiday drive to collect necessities for the families in the program, and we even collected toys and games for the children. Because of COVID restrictions, it was definitely challenging, but through the dedication and generosity of our local members, we gave families a joyous holiday. For me, this kind of generosity is what the holiday season is all about.

What do you hope the organization will achieve in the near future? In the long term?

Verna: Most immediately, I’m excited to see Home & Hope grow and expand in order to help more families. Also, because of COVID, I’ve missed the interfaith aspect of the Home & Hope model. Working with congregation members and leadership is something I truly enjoy. I look forward to the world opening up more and more so that we can come together and accomplish a lot in the coming year.

In the longer term, I’d love to see Home & Hope expand to offer programs like transitional housing, which would equip people with the tools, structure, and support they need to re-enter permanent housing and be successful in their futures.
I’m really excited about where Home & Hope is headed!

Does anyone in your life play a role in supporting your involvement? In providing inspiration?

Verna: I get so much inspiration from people in all aspects of my life. My family is a constant source of support, inspiration, and encouragement. They also volunteer. For instance, my daughter is volunteering at the holiday gift wrap fundraiser this year.

I also have two close friends who began helping people who are homeless with me when we were in college together. To this day, they continue to support me and contribute to this work.

And the women who are in the Home & Hope program — despite the enormous challenges they face in giving their children a sense of stability despite being homeless — they continue to hold hope for a better future for themselves and their families. It’s really amazing and inspiring.

And of course, the staff at Home & Hope. They’re incredibly dedicated to the organization’s mission and values and to the families they help. They work incredibly hard, and it shows.

Do you have a message to share with readers?

Verna: First, get involved however you can — whether it’s in small ways like delivering groceries to the families — or big things, like creating a fun run fundraiser. The great thing is that Home & Hope has the support, tools, and opportunities that will help you be successful in whatever way you choose to participate.

Second, people who happen to be homeless are human beings. They’re people just like you and me who have been faced with life-altering events — like illness or domestic violence — that have driven them into homelessness. When you see people as people, not as “the homeless,” you have the chance to grow and learn from your experiences and connections with them.

At the end of the day, it’s really about treating each other with respect, kindness, and compassion. To me, this fundamental formula is the way that we’ll create lasting social change — the way that we’ll be able to leave the world better than we found it.

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Become a Home & Hope volunteer today and help families find a new start.