Note: I worked at HK Magazine from December 2015 to April 2016 as an editorial writer. This article was published in the June 2016 issue of The List.
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Women in Focus: SW Wong
Shaun Bernier is the founder and acting executive director of HandsOn Hong Kong, a nonprofit organization that acts as a middleperson between volunteers and charities, helping to recruit volunteers or manage upcoming activities. Bernier tells Charmaine Ng about growing up in a family that instilled goodwill in her and bringing that to Hong Kong.
I grew up in the US with a family that taught me to appreciate what we had from a very young age.
My parents brought me to volunteer regularly with Habitat for Humanity during high school. That put me on the path to working in public service.
I worked in an NGO after university and gained advocacy experience in the public sector. It was my husband’s job that moved us to Hong Kong.
Coming with experience from the government, I didn’t know where to get started in the new city and with the language barrier here, it wasn’t really possible for me to work in the local government.
Timing-wise, starting HandsOn Hong Kong in 2007 was perfect. I had previous experience working with HandsOn New York and Washington DC and I saw a need for the organization in my new city.
HandsOn is perfect for someone wanting to help out in the community but doesn’t know where to start—especially in Hong Kong, where there is a lack of work-life balance in general.
We’re like a matchmaker between volunteers and charities. But we’re not your traditional matchmaker—we join you on the first date to test the waters. We hope that it’s a good fit, and that it’ll be beneficial and meaningful for both sides.
The charities we work with address a variety of social needs and we also partner with smaller NGOs who may not have resources themselves.
Volunteering benefits two or more people—yourself and those being helped. Volunteers are doing more than just asking for donations on the street. It’s a more rewarding way to address social issues.
I’m particularly passionate about refugees and asylum workers who cannot work in Hong Kong while waiting for their status.
I also have a soft spot for children and the elderly. We have a program where volunteers meet directly with the elderly in their own homes and provide essentials for them. It’s very eye-opening to see where they live beyond the elderly center.
I’ve brought my children along before and I hope over time, charity work is going to resonate with them.
HandsOn is like my first baby. As a social enterprise entrepreneur, I see myself starting something new.
Volunteer now at handsonhongkong.org