When IBM Sweden technical director Maria Ericsson first started volunteering at Stockholm Stadsmission in 2015, she only went two hours each month. However, the impact she and other IBM volunteers would have in the coming years would be significant.
Stockholm Stadsmission, or Stockholm City Mission, is a nonprofit that serves families in crisis, children, the elderly, people dealing with addiction, and those who are homeless. Through multiple programs and offerings including a school, shelter, and second-hand store, Stockholm Stadsmission helps to expand the capabilities of their clients, so they can regain power and autonomy in their lives.
Maria worked with the participants in the Klaragården program, which has provided stability to homeless women in transition since 1993. Klaragården arose out of a need to support Stockholm’s homeless women, a particularly vulnerable demographic. In addition to helping participants find a home, Klaragården also makes counseling available, and gives access to computers, telephones, and laundry services when the women visit the center. The computer access is especially crucial for women seeking to expand their tech savvy. If program participants wanted to take online education courses or pursue a job opportunity, they need to learn how to use email and other applications. Maria provides that training and answers their questions.
In the beginning, Klaragården had only one desktop computer and Maria received questions occasionally. “But then the women realized that I was available,” Maria says. “They realized they could ask me for help.” Word spread, and as the Stadsmission clients became more interested, the program acquired more computers.
A team at work
Klaragården’s computer-based opportunities weren’t just an opportunity for program participants. Eventually, IBM volunteers Carin Holmen, an executive assistant in global administration, and Katarina Attebrant, who manages client needs in the healthcare sector, joined Maria to contribute to the computer training program. Carin had been volunteering at Stockholm Stadsmission since 2008, and Katarina, since 2015. The IBMers would go on to receive silver community grants for the organization in 2015 and 2016.
“The type of help they needed varied,” says Carin. “I have helped people open their first email account, showed them how to save files to a USB flash drive, and searched the internet for knitting patterns in Arabic.”
Maria still remembers one woman who was going back to school. “She wanted to work in healthcare and had been accepted to an online course of study. The problem was that she was not used to working with computers and she was intimidated by the course,” Maria says. Because of the work that the IBM volunteers provided at Klaragården, the woman received assistance and overcame her fears. “Because of what we were doing, she went on to pursue her studies.”
While the computer training proved crucial, Klaragården participants also benefited from the life experience of the IBM volunteers. “We didn’t just help them with technical issues,” Maria explains. “We were an example of ‘conventional life,’ and I could tell that our day-to-day lifestyle added value.”
While the Stadsmission community benefited from educational opportunities, the IBM volunteers received an education of their own. They saw that people’s stories were unique and that life circumstances could often be unpredictable.
“Through this volunteer work, I have realized how fragile life can be,” Maria says. “I’ve met people that lived under bridges and in the streets. But those same people could have easily been going to school or working full-time that same year.”
For the volunteers, their work with the program served as an “alarm clock,” to wake up from just going about life in the same way. “Our work here isn’t that complex,” says Carin, “but the things we’ve done have helped make people happy. That is worth a great deal.”
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