Volunteer Spotlight: Oksana Soomai

Meet Oksana, our amazing 1:1 Math Tutoring Program Co-Coordinator! She initially started as our Math Coordinator Assistant, but after a few short weeks in this role, she exceeded our expectations and it became clear that her dedication and passion was better suited for a stronger leadership role, that of Math Co-Coordinator! With her leadership, GiGi’s NYC was successfully able to launch subsequent semesters of our 1:1 Math Tutoring Program to our entire community! Soon after the launch, Oksana learned that our 1:1 Literacy Tutoring Program needed a Coordinator. She graciously offered to fill in for this role, in addition to remaining our Math Co-Coordinator. Her willingness to help in another significant role speaks volumes about her character. Her dedication to the Down syndrome community is bar none, and we are eternally grateful to have her as part of our team. Read more about her below:

How and when did you first get involved with GiGi’s NYC? I started volunteering with GiGi’s NYC in January 2022. My career goal is to become a Clinical Psychologist, which means I have more years of school before I get to start clinically helping others. I was looking for a way to give back my time with what tools and skills I currently have and to develop what skills I can use in my future career. Volunteering with GiGi’s NYC has done more than that – this organization has invigorated my spirit after seeing all of our participants really flourish with all the opportunities available. It is truly an honor to devote my time with GiGi’s NYC and I’m so glad I have the privilege to volunteer with the organization.  

What do you do as a volunteer? I volunteer as the Math and Literacy 1:1 Virtual Tutoring Co-Coordinator.  It is a split between behind-the-scenes/support positions. Alongside my Co-Coordinator, Maggie Broyles, we make sure everyone can get a suitable match between student and tutor, work out any technological issues with Microsoft Teams, and deal with any snafus as the semester unfolds. Also, we provide support and feedback for our students and tutors to help them grow. At the end of the day, I’m here to support everyone involved in 1:1 tutoring-this is a newer program here for GiGI’s NYC. Our GiGi’s NYC tutoring resources are developed specifically on the concept of “I do, We do, You do” and I really try to emphasize the “We do” idea across the tutoring program. We’re all working together to build our tutoring program to make each session more successful than the last. 

What does GiGi’s NYC mean to you? NYC is a global beacon of diversity already with many communities. With GiGi’s NYC, I see a welcoming, accessible community that is built on progress. We offer so many different opportunities built to really help people with Down syndrome flourish their skills to enrich their lives. Whether it is working on cognitive development, hypotonia, or other areas, GiGi’s NYC represents a community that is here to support all of our participants. To me, GiGi’s NYC means a place that is overflowing with acceptance and kindness at every opportunity.  

What does Down syndrome awareness and acceptance look like to you? There is a preconceived notion that people with Down syndrome are limited. That is not the case-we know with patience and compassion, people with Down syndrome can and will develop with the right support. Down syndrome awareness and acceptance to me would be an overall more patient and gentle perspective-it’s not about different treatment, it is about being more inclusive and understanding of how to develop abilities instead of focusing on a disability.  

What is the best part about volunteering with GiGi’s NYC? I love seeing all of our students and tutors grow from the 1:1 tutoring! We start the semester with everyone nervous, which is normal. It’s a new situation, a new relationship, all combined with academics. We try to encourage everyone to come in with an open mind and ready to embark on this session with the mindset to learn. By the end, I can see the confidence glowing from the students and the tutors. We are a community here to support everyone and figure out what works best. Seeing everyone grow together by the end of the semester revitalizes me to start preparing for the next session and I am excited to see all our potential.  

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