Volunteer Spotlight: Darci Kole, Website Specialist
Darci Kole has much in common with other BIIN volunteers. She identifies with BIIN’s mission “to promote the dignity and well-being of immigrants” as vital parts of our communities. She has generously given of her time and talent. She has helped BIIN improve the quality of the services it offers, and has found it personally rewarding to do this work.
Unlike many volunteers, Darci Kole has not worked directly with one of BIIN’s programs. Instead, she has worked behind the scenes, as a technical specialist, working with BIIN staff member Adriana Stowe to upgrade and improve certain aspects of BIIN’s website. Darci has a background of working in web-based technology and recently finished an intensive “full stack” course that enhanced her skills in coding, website security and design. By offering her time and skills to BIIN as a volunteer, Darci has saved the organization substantial funds and prevented us from falling prey to some common website problems down the road.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Darci Kole does not live in the Brazos Valley, nor even in Texas. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Darci and her family have lived in Seattle, Washington for the past several years. As the photo below suggests, they are huge fans of the Mariners baseball team.
So how did Darci Kole, a web specialist living in Seattle, even become connected to BIIN? As you might guess, Director Jaimi Washburn (who always has the organization’s interests at heart) was instrumental to bringing Darci and her talents to BIIN.
In December 2020, Jaimi received an email from Forest Moher, the job placement director for the Tech Academy, a technical trade school in Portland, Oregon. He was reaching out to BIIN (among other organizations), to see if we had any tech-related needs or openings that their graduates might want to apply for. Jaimi made it clear that although BIIN could not hire anyone at that time, it could offer meaningful volunteer opportunities to a Tech Academy graduate with web development and coding skills. Aware of Darci Kole’s skills and interests, Forest Moher told her about the opportunity to volunteer with BIIN. After finishing the “full stack” course at the Tech Academy, Darci had not sought full-time work, because her daughter was attending school remotely (due to the pandemic). But the prospect of helping a non-profit during flexible hours that fit her family’s schedule was quite appealing.
In early January 2021, Darci had a first Zoom meeting with Jaimi Washburn and Adriana Stowe. Regarding Adriana, it is relevant to know that she had served BIIN as an unpaid intern in spring 2018 and continued to work on technology and web-based problems as a volunteer, for another year and a half. In February 2020, Adriana was hired to work part-time as BIIN’s web and database manager. Since her days as an intern, Adriana had worked tirelessly to find solutions to problems with the website as they occurred, but she and Jaimi increasingly recognized BIIN’s need for greater expertise.
Thinking back to their first meeting, Darci recalled, “Jaimi and Adriana told me what they wanted to be able to do with the website, and it was just a good fit. We connected easily.” Anyone who knows Jaimi can imagine how this happened; her natural warmth and her appreciation for others’ skills have convinced many people to get involved at BIIN. Adriana, too, is kind, welcoming, ready to share what she knows and to learn from others. By the end of that first conversation, Darci was on board.
Darci began by working on the “back end” of BIIN’s website: after discovering that some of the coding was out of date, she moved the site to a new hosting platform so that the coding could be updated and the site made more secure. The next step was to work on various features that users see, including visuals, the front page, and the donation landing page. When these improvements have been made, Darci will also create a customized, editable and highly secure form for BIIN to use in the provision of some services. Along the way, she is working closely with Adriana and teaching her more about the intricacies of coding and improving a website’s capabilities.Over the past several weeks, Darci has put in many hours of work. Even as a volunteer, she is focused more on the end result than on the time it takes. “I’m very detailed oriented,” she explains. “I take my time and make sure I get things where I want them. I’ve learned that if you’re sloppy, it just takes more time.”
The time and skills that Darci has shared with BIIN are invaluable. As Jaimi puts it, “It is truly a dream come true! I cannot imagine how much money this would have cost our organization if we had to pay for the services that Darci has shared with us. She has gone above and beyond what we ever imagined. Her expertise is hard to find and the fact that she is volunteering her time to help our organization, out of the goodness of her heart, speaks volumes about who she is.”
Adriana also appreciates the timeliness and the depth of Darci’s contributions: “She came to us at a time where the whole world had moved to a virtual platform. I had been working with an outdated website for a long time and have had to do many work-arounds, but was not experienced enough to get to the root of the issue. Darci took the challenge with no hesitation. If I requested a simple fix, she would go further and suggest something better for us. She wants the best for BIIN and the immigrant community, and I really admire that about her.”
Given that Darci lives far from Texas, you might wonder why BIIN’s mission resonates with her. As she explains it, one reason is that she really empathizes with people who are figuring out how to live in a country even when they do not yet master its dominant language. For several years, Darci and her husband lived in Japan and in Korea, without speaking the local languages. She remembers how easy it was to feel isolated and vulnerable, as a result.
Back in the States, Darci and her family have chosen to live in a very diverse neighborhood in Seattle. As she describes it, “Our little cul de sac is full of immigrants. There are families from Somalia, India, several Hispanic families, and my own family is multiracial. It’s like a little United Nations!” Aware of ways in which neighbors with limited English may feel vulnerable, Darci makes a point of checking in on them regularly. And she sees a similar concern for making people feel seen and included as integral to BIIN’s role in the Brazos Valley.
As soon as Darci learned about BIIN and its work, she felt this was an organization she wanted to support as a volunteer. “I’m really impressed with the level of dedication and effort that people put in to help others,” she observed, “That is what I have seen at BIIN.” Given the challenges that our society is facing these days, Darci feels that it is all the more important that each of us invest in relationships with our neighbors, whoever they may be: “We are living in such an interesting time. It’s good to see people really caring about others now. That attitude and that willingness to help others, it’s really key to living in a good place.”
Although she had never before thought about using her technical skills to the benefit of a non-profit organization, Darci is pleased that she has had this experience with BIIN. It has opened her eyes to the possibility of working with other non-profits. It has also been personally gratifying. As she observed, “Sometimes we don’t know where or how to give back. We want to help, but we might not realize that some of our skills could be of value to others. This was a great opportunity for me to help in ways that I can help, and that feels wonderful!”
Thank you, Darci, for the deeply valuable work and the many hours that you have given to the project of improving BIIN’s website. We are so grateful for your generosity, your expertise, and your commitment to doing things right. Thank you also for reminding us that we all have unique talents to share, and that our world needs each of us to step up and be generous, whenever and wherever we can. Thank you, Darci, from all of us at BIIN!