Volunteer Spotlight: Hana Alicic

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Hana Alicic Gives Everything She’s Got

Hana is an absolutely incredible young woman. To be honest, we’re shocked we haven’t featured here already! She’s one of the busiest volunteers we’ve ever met, and one of the most dedicated. Along with wrapping up her undergraduate degree in Public Health and Statistics at UW, she works as a statistician and has a huge array of volunteer commitments. She volunteers at the 45th Street Clinic and the United Way Tax Campaign, she’s running a listening campaign at Tent City with Health Equity Circle, she does needs-focused health education with homeless adults through an organization called Education Transforming Community Health as well as outreach and education with pre-med students, and she advises the student-run UW co-op. On top of all of that she comes to Teen Feed once a week, providing a presence that can switch from playful to deeply grounded depending on guests’ needs. Oh, and she has fun too! We’re thrilled to introduce her to you.

When did you start volunteering at Teen Feed? What inspired that?

I started volunteering at Teen Feed in the spring of 2011. When I was in high school I was interested in gay rights. I was raised in a conservative household and went to a conservative school and my feelings about the importance of gay rights wasn’t  very popular. When I came to Seattle in the fall of 2010 I wanted to be more involved in what I believe in. I found out about Lifelong AIDS Alliance and started volunteering in their thrift store. I found out about Empowerment (their young adults outreach program) and got involved there too. At an outreach event for Empowerment we tabled at Teen Feed and I was hooked – I started volunteering at Teen Feed shortly thereafter.

What was your impression of Teen Feed when you started?

I thought the whole concept of Teen Feed was really fascinating – you just sit with people and talk with them! I had always thought of myself as awkward and had never really been good at having random conversations with people. At first it took a lot of getting over myself and just knowing that people aren’t going to judge me for sitting down to talk – just being open to whatever happens. When I actually started talking to guests and hearing about their experiences it really affected my perspective It’s so different to read about something in class or read about it on the news than to actually talk with someone who’s experiencing it, whether that’s the affects of race, or not having privilege, or being queer, or homelessness in general. I credit Teen Feed with changing my life – race, privilege, and other deep complex conversations about social justice just weren’t at the forefront of my consciousness before I started at Teen Feed like they are now.

All of these issues get super-politicized and people really detach themselves from social justice issues. But when you actually talk with people who are experiencing the negative things that get brought up it’s completely different than what’s publicized. Especially having a 1:1 conversation, not just listening to someone talk but actually engaging with them – it’s very profound. I feel like at Teen Feed it’s important for us to be there for guests and to learn about their lives and listen to them but it’s also really impactful for the people who volunteer.

We love food here at Teen Feed. What did you eat today?

I ate couscous with chicken and carrots. The way I made it was really ridiculous. I just put the couscous and chicken and carrots together and let it marinate overnight. Don’t worry, the chicken was cooked already! I eat really weird stuff because I have NO time so I tell myself “this counts as food!” pretty frequently.

What’s your favorite thing about volunteering at Teen Feed?

I really love when I sit down with a guest for the first time and they’re not into me. I try to make conversation and they’re not really interested and that’s fine. But I keep trying and I keep sitting with them and I keep showing I care and occasionally try to open a conversation again. Over a few weeks some people will open up to and that’s such a rewarding experience to have. That’s rewarding in any context, but especially at Teen Feed because people, understandably, have a lot of barriers to trusting others. It’s nice to know that someone feels like they can eventually open up to you. I’m not pushy, but I try to show that I’m a safe adult.

How does volunteering at Teen Feed affect other parts of your life?

It’s funny – Teen Feed comes up in everyday conversations with people all the time. For example, I was in a conversation about drug use the other day. We were talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman and someone said it’s his own fault that he died. So I brought up drug abuse and mentioned how through my experiences at Teen Feed I’ve seen that a lot of people ultimately for many reasons feel the need to self-medicate because their situation is so terrible and they’re surrounded by people who are using. If your entire friend group is doing something it’s pretty natural for someone to adopt the same behavior. I talked about how addiction needs to be understood as a disease and it’s less about a “choice” at a certain point.

I didn’t even really notice how much Teen Feed was changing me until I started having these external conversations with people about issues I’ve seen at Teen Feed and I realized I didn’t think these things before Teen Feed. It was new. And it wasn’t an active “oh you’re going to switch your opinion on this” it just slowly evolved and changed my entire life – it gave me a paradigm shift, I guess.

What’s a favorite meal you’ve been served at Teen Feed?

Mambo Combo! Their cobblers are amazing. The cobbler portions are huge and it’s so delicious. I guess that’s not an entire meal but hey, I could make a whole meal out of that cobbler. Rick makes a different flavor every month … it’s so good. They’re a cool meal team.

What advice would you give to new volunteers?

I really like that at Teen Feed you can’t be full of shit. Guests can see that in a second. You can’t sit down and be unreal or voyeuristic – you have to actually be a real person and actually show that you care and actually show that you can relate to them and have real interests. That’s a good skill to have for life – in general, when you’re talking to anyone. Everyone hates it when others are condescending so you have to show that you’re a real human being and have to talk on a normal level. If you put up a guard you can’t expect someone else to take down their guard. Also, expect to be tested at first. People will tease you a little at first and you have to roll with it. Don’t let people bully you but there’s also a reason people test others – they’ve had others fail them a lot. They want to know if you’re going to freak out, if you’re going to be around next week, all of that. You have to respect people and they’ll respect you. Respect doesn’t automatically come – you have to earn it.

Is there anything about your experience at TF that you want to tell me that you haven’t said already?

Here’s a cheesy little tidbit. Teen Feed has been good for me in terms of bringing my ego down. I am not that special. I can’t go in and tell people how to live their lives and what they need to do differently but that doesn’t mean that I can’t help someone just by talking with them and showing that I empathize with them. Just that small thing has other positive effects. I can’t go into things expecting to be this crazy life-changing influence on everyone’s life. That’s totally unrealistic. It’s not about setting low expectations, it’s acknowledging that you can’t change people but you can support them. And that support? It’s incredibly, incredibly valuable.

Hana, the value of your volunteerism is beyond words. To learn more about Teen Feed’s Advocate, Ally, and Meal Team volunteer programs, click here. To support Teen Feed’s work and the lives of homeless young people , click here.