By Dylan D’Alessio
During work hours, Joanne Spencer is a Tax Assistant within our firm. Away from work, she is much more than that to her community, whole-heartedly involved in a number of different ways. For Joanne, it is volunteering with organizations related to her personal interests and experiences. Even if it’s helping out in the smallest way and making a difference in one person’s life, for her, it is worth it.
The subject of domestic violence is one that is particularly important to Joanne. Being a survivor of domestic abuse herself, she has become involved with a number of different Domestic Violence volunteer organizations. As a member of Union Baptist Church in Montclair and the facilitator of its Singles Ministry, she has conducted Domestic Violence Awareness Seminars for the last 5 years as well as educating the congregation along with other members of the community about domestic violence. For her, it is especially important to spread awareness since there has been a murder at least every other year in Montclair since 2008 as a result of domestic violence.
In addition, Joanne is now a second year member of the Montclair Police Department’s Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT), after having completed a minimum of 40 hours of training at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in Newark. She is on call every Friday night from 6:30pm to 6:30am and must be available to respond to domestic violence situations.
Joanne’s other volunteer work stems from her interest and education in fine art and photography as well as her personal experiences within adoption and foster care. She had attended a showcase by the Heart Gallery of NJ and was so moved by the exhibit that she stayed for 5 hours. The Heart Gallery of NJ showcased over 300 photographs of children in foster care that were eligible for adoption and was used as a means of putting a face on foster care. This lead her to the realization of another way she could be of help to her community and Joanne became a member of the Morristown Post-Adoption Support Group, which is also affiliated with New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE).
This group has been working for a number of years on getting the Adoptees Birthright Bill passed which would allow adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates and family medical histories. She was asked by NJCARE to testify before the NJ State Legislature on behalf of the bill in 2010. The bill was signed by Governor Christie in 2014 and in January 2017 adult adoptees will be able to obtain that information. In addition to joining the support group, Joanne spent 3 years mentoring young women aging out of the foster care system through the agency from which she was placed as a child, Children’s Aid and Family Services.
Still, Joanne does more. She volunteers at Team Walker events throughout the year and occasionally volunteers at the Nature Center in Roseland, NJ. This past January, Joanne’s Alma Mater, Montclair State University, participated in the Martin Luther King National Day of Service where Joanne and others spent part of the day doing MLK Jr. art projects with children at a community center in Clifton.
During the holidays, Joanne challenged her adult Sunday school class to buy one extra gift to give to the homeless. Some were hesitant at first, but after participating, they were surprised how rewarding it was to make a connection and do something nice for others.
Joanne’s advice to those who would like to get involved with volunteer work is to take a look back at your life and past experiences. Volunteering means providing your personal time and ideas, so you should find something that you are passionate about. Even if it’s something small you can still make a huge difference in someone’s life. It’s not all about you, it’s about community.
Here is a video clip of Joanne testifying, the clip was used by the state of Connecticut to support their legislative efforts.
Governor Christie signing the Adoptees Birthright bill in 2014.
Joanne (middle) with two other members of the Morristown Post-Adoption Support Group.