Three Things I Learned Volunteering for Special Olympics Northern California - And Why I’ll Do It Again

By Sarah Damele

Wells Fargo East Bay Commercial Banking

Working for Wells Fargo, I’m surrounded by a culture of giving. Whether it’s philanthropy, community grant programs, or team member volunteering, team members like myself have many opportunities to contribute to the communities where we live and work.

Coming from a background of service work with nonprofits in the region, I wasn’t sure what to expect during my first time volunteering for the Special Olympics Northern California 2019 Summer Games, but I was ready for an adventure.

As background, my Wells Fargo team and I participate in group volunteering events regularly, so serving the community isn’t new for us. What was different, however, was the scope and experience of this particular event. Three main takeaways stood out – all of which will keep us coming back to participate with Special Olympics Northern California in the future.

  1. An organized event makes a difference.  Volunteering for the first time with Special Olympics, my team and I anticipated a meaningful day, but we had no idea as to how significant it would be. We were in awe by the level of participation, which included 770 Special Olympics athletes, supported by 285 coaches.


    Given the enormous scale, it was remarkable to see how smoothly the event went. For a group of financial services professionals whose business thrives on planning and meticulous time management, showing up for an affair of this size could easily cause anxiety for the typical volunteer. Not in this case. The entire Special Olympics team made the experience easy. When we arrived, the crew assigned jobs, such as timing athletes and manning booths. I helped staff a booth that distributed Wells Fargo sunglasses and sunscreen to athletes. Being able to completely focus on the interactions with the athletes – not the details about where to go and what to do – made the experience especially enjoyable.


  2. Volunteering outside of the office is the best way to bond. I’m always surprised how spending time with co-workers outside of the office creates a unique connection, but at the 2019 Summer Games, I was reminded that volunteering together fosters a unique culture of caring. Like events we’ve participated in before, team members brought their families, giving us a way to also get to know other as ‘real people.’


    We also made connections to enhance our business. Recently, Wells Fargo Commercial Banking brought together several businesses to serve customers more effectively. This event allowed us to let down our guards during a particularly stressful business phase. Throughout the day, employees from across teams shared ideas for partnering in the future. It was natural and unforced, and that type of relationship building is priceless.

    Melissa Landay, market executive for Wells Fargo’s Commercial Banking in the East Bay, recently moved to Northern California. Her support of team members attending this event, and encouraging us to connect with others across business lines, was key to opening the lines of communication throughout the day. I believe the most effective bonding follows from the attitude that comes from the top of the house. 


  3. Special Olympic athletes provide a treasured perspective. The day was inspirational. As athletes competed in bocce, swimming, tennis, and track and field, I watched reactions around winning and losing. One athlete made a comment: “I finished second, but it was still great because I beat four people.”

That comment reminded me that our perspective on events shapes how we view the world. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by important concerns – deadlines, competitors and fear of the unknown – just to name a few. Although these trepidations are valid, I have the power to reframe the situation in my mind. The 2019 Summer Games reminded me that my situation at work is a beautiful beginning and opportunity to bring together the very best practices across teams to do what we do best – serve customers with exceptional care and unmatched expertise.

Many companies and employees have the choice of which organization to support through volunteering and philanthropy. It’s hard to decide where to place valuable time and money. After participating in this year’s 2019 Summer Games, I can confidently recommend Special Olympics Northern California. It will leave you fulfilled, touched and eager to do it again.    

Sarah Damele is a Vice President and Relationship Manager in the East Bay Commercial Banking office located in Oakland, CA.

The views expressed present the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wells Fargo & Co., its affiliates and subsidiaries.