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Citizen Philanthropy in Action: “Sometimes It Just Takes a Smile”

Photo for Leona O' SullivanLeona O' Sullivan
Citizen Philanthropy in Action HERO

At VMware, we believe everyone has something unique to contribute to our society. Our culture of service influences the way we interact with others — inside and outside of work — fostering empathy and building connections. We are all Citizen Philanthropists, empowered to support what is most meaningful to us through VMware Foundation programs.

This month we checked in with Paulina Kostrzewska, Privacy Operations Senior Manager in Staines, to see what VMware’s Culture of Service means to her and to learn more about her recent Service Learning experiences:

Paulina: I joined VMware in January 2020, so I have been here for almost three years now. I learned about the VMware Foundation and the Service Learning program on my first day, as they were introduced to me during our New Employee Experience. Immediately, I saw the strong emphasis VMware puts on service, and how each of us can contribute to society in our own way.

During my onboarding, I heard about the Mental Health First Aiders program in the U.K. and how VMware and Joe Baguley, our CTO in EMEA, sponsor a dedicated team of First Aiders in EMEA. Because I have history of my own struggles with mental health—which I’m very open about—and I also value volunteering, I was immediately interested in how I could become a Mental Health First Aider.

I feel lucky because soon afterwards, there was a call for new Mental Health First Aiders. We don’t often have calls for Mental Health First Aiders—yet, within my first few months at VMware, I got the opportunity. It seems it was meant to be.

I’m very open about what I’ve gone through because no one should ever need to go through that alone, whatever it’s precipitated by. I’m grateful to be part of a group of people who value mental health and are very mindful about how they speak to people inside and outside of work. This has given me a lot of humility and showed me that sometimes just genuinely asking a person, “How are you?” can open a discussion that they need in that moment.

Aside from Mental Health First Aider program, I participate in a variety of other opportunities through VMware, including the VMware Foundation’s Matching Gift program, and doing mock interviews with high school students preparing for interviews for jobs, internships, or further educational opportunities. In EMEA, our fantastic Legal team has engaged with an NGO organisation that helps kids regulate their citizenship status in the UK (Kids in Need of Defense, KIND) and I couldn’t miss out on this opportunity as well. The spirit of giving grows deep within the Legal team, as together with other VMWare colleagues based in Staines, we joined the Thames Path Mighty Hike organised by Macmillan Cancer, and managed to fundraise over £1000 to support the cause.

I have never found this level of support and opportunity to participate in service in other companies I’ve worked for, and my friends are always amazed. For example, the Mental Health First Aider program took four days to complete, and my manager was absolutely supportive of me taking time off to focus on the qualification. For anyone who would like to contribute back to society, this is a gift.

I’ve always had an innate need to help people and to give back. Whether at work, with friends or in my community, I’ve always put emphasis on relationships and connections. The fact that VMware encourages us to go out and make a difference, and actually supports us through offering company-allocated time, well that’s something incredible! This has allowed me to bring my full self to work, with all the empathy and humanity that is part of who I am. For me, it’s about helping each of us recognize that we can have tough days and we don’t have to pretend that nothing has happened. To recognize that sometimes what people need is for someone to smile at them, or say, “Good job, tomorrow will be a better day.” This is what VMware helps us do here at the company and outside in our communities.

I will soon be spending a full day doing mock interviews with high school students. I’ve been preparing for this with other interviewers and the excitement we get from the organizer is absolutely palpable. I’m excited to spend time with the kids!

My motto has always been, “You can’t work from an empty cup.” Look after yourself because you can’t give back if you are feeling overwhelmed and not ready for having tough conversations. And I think everyone needs to keep this in mind. Make sure your cup is full, and then you have the capacity to help others.

Mental Health Resources:

Learn more about the VMware Foundation and see Citizen Philanthropy in Action here.