Author’s note: Normally these posts are written by Verity’s staff trainer, Matthew Kingston. However, this quarter, Kingston is the subject of the interview! He will return next quarter as the interviewer and author.
Matthew Kingston doesn’t have kids of his own, but he’s helping shape the minds of Seattle’s youth. Nearly every Tuesday, he spends the evening with a group of high school students from The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, helping them with their school work, college essays, and learning about how to navigate the adult world.
Kingston has volunteered off and on during his adult life, focusing most of his efforts on assisting students with their school work. The aspiring novelist helped students at a Seattle high school for awhile after graduating from University of Washington. He also volunteered through work opportunities, helping his larger community here and there as time and interest allowed. But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that he really felt the call to give back.
“After the political climate changed in 2016, I felt I needed to get more involved in local community,” Kingston said.
That’s when he found his home at The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas. BFI, as it’s more commonly known, is an organization that strives to help open doors for kids and teens through the power of words. The organization was started in 2004, under the name Pencilhead, before aligning with the organization 826 National. The group, operating as 826 Seattle, originally offered free drop-in after school tutoring. In fact, it was through 826 Seattle that Kingston volunteered at a local high school in the mid-2000s. Since then, the organization separated from 826 National and became BFI, expanding offerings to include tutoring on evenings and weekends, in-school programs, school field trip opportunities, public workshops and more. BFI focuses on helping youth 6-18 years old be prepared for a successful future through strong writing skills, championing diverse communication styles, motivating youth to share their stories, and encouraging strong leadership skills and being engaged citizens.
Kingston is a natural teacher, having earned several higher education degrees and spending his days at Verity as the staff trainer. But the work at BFI is different because he gets to spend time with youth and learn alongside the students. Many of the students he works with are from Ethiopia and other African countries, and are not native English speakers. Many are also very driven, attending private schools on scholarship, and are the first generation in their families to think about attending college. So while Kingston is teaching them writing skills, they’re teaching him about their cultures, being a teenager in today’s society, and how they view current politics and current events.
“I can… get up 6 a.m. and work all day and write and be exhausted, and show up for tutoring from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. and be revitalized to be there,” he said. “No matter how tiring or frustrating work was or whatever, I can show up and dive in and two hours just flies by. It’s just awesome.”
After doing tutoring for an entire school year, he felt like something was missing when summer 2017 arrived. So, he decided to double down on his commitment to BFI and did something he hadn’t done before—join the board of directors of BFI.
“During a volunteer event last September, I approached the executive director and voiced interest in joining the board…thinking it might take a year,” Kingston said. “Two weeks later, I was meeting with the board president and other people, and by December 1, I was on the board.”
With his role on the board, he brings a different perspective than many of the other members because he’s also a tutor and working directly with the students being impacted by decisions the board makes.
“I get to be the voice translating between what’s actually happening in the center and what’s happening with the board,” he said.
Through his volunteering, he’s also been able to connect BFI with Verity, allowing the two organizations to assist each other in furthering their initiatives, which he see complement each other.
“Just being in the communities and helping people, and empowering people with words and information and knowledge is the most important thing we can do,” Kingston said. “So being able to help kids become better humans through writing better, through communicating better, through feeling like they have advocates and adults they can go to outside of their family and school is a really important aspect for me.”
While he’s been a regular volunteer the last couple of years, his volunteering before returning to BFI was much more intermittent. He grew up volunteering now and then with his family (mainly during the holidays), but it was rarely a long-term commitment. But after starting working at Verity seven years ago, he started seeing the real-life long-term impacts volunteering in a community on a regular basis can have. Other organizations he’s supported include Teen Feed, Phinney Neighborhood Association, Northwest Children’s Fund, and Seattle-based food banks. It took several years of dabbling in volunteering through Verity before he committed to BFI, but since he did, he hasn’t looked back.
“It was time and I was ready,” he said. “Now I don’t know what I would do without volunteering at BFI. It’s a big part of who I am at this point. It’s nice to give back to a community.”
His advice for anyone else looking to volunteer is to find an organization you truly believe in, one that has values that align with your own. And think about what skills, knowledge, and ideas you have and can bring to an organization. And then make sticking to the volunteering commitment a priority in your life.
“If you love animals, how can you work with the humane society or other pet rescues? If you like writing, how can you work with kids or a library? If you enjoy community meals, how can you get involved with a community meal or homeless shelter,” he said. “If you’re not passionate about it you’re not going to want to go back.”
Hi, I’m Kira. I joined Verity in early 2012 after a seven-year stint as a newspaper reporter. While I never thought my career path would veer off in this direction, I am loving my time at Verity. I recently moved from being a member services representative at the Alderwood Branch to being the marketing coordinator for the credit union.
I’m originally from Texas, but I have lived all over the country and the world, including Boston, Massachusetts, Anchorage, Alaska and Sydney, Australia. But in all my travels, the Pacific Northwest is the only place that has felt like home.
When not at work, I am usually home with playing with my son, husband, dog and three cats. During the rare times I don’t have a to-do list to plow through (and it’s not raining too hard), I can be found digging in the vegetable garden, training for a half-marathon, or grilling in the backyard.