20th Anniversary Volunteer Feature with Kellie Ernst

“Write Around gave me some purpose and connection outside myself and family, both as a volunteer and [Prompt] participant. Writing in community fed a deep longing for fellowship….” 

—Kellie Ernst

At Write Around Portland, our volunteer program embodies one of our deepest held values of community. Since our founding, volunteers have provided invaluable support to help us change lives through the power of writing—it takes a community to build community

For the last 20 years we have worked with 1,972 volunteers, supporting us in the office with everything from filing to data entry to mailing parties; and in our workshops facilitating, scribing and providing childcare. Volunteers have made our workshops, readings and books possible. In total, these volunteers have contributed 75,000 hours to make our programming possible. We are so grateful for this wealth of support.

Our volunteer program is a key pillar of our work. In addition to volunteers contributing their time to help us move our mission forward, we also hear from volunteers that their Write Around Portland experience has shaped and changed them. As Kellie Ernst, one of our longest-serving volunteers, said, “You can’t give away without getting. It’s a reciprocal event.”

Kellie, an oncologist social worker, mother of a 16-year-old daughter and word nerd who geeks out on fonts, paper and a good pen—“super-fine felt-tip, please,” she says—first got involved with Write Around Portland in 2009 when she saw our anthology at Broadway Books. She signed up to volunteer the next day and started helping around the office stuffing envelopes and doing data entry. Soon she trained as a volunteer facilitator and then went on to facilitate our Prompt workshops at Powell’s City of Books that serve as fundraisers for our free programming. Since her first volunteer shift in December 2009, Kellie has logged 1,062 volunteer hours!

Kellie recently shared her insights and experiences volunteering with Write Around Portland, and we were struck by how much of what she shared echoed what we’ve heard from our volunteers over the years:

Volunteers connect with people from different backgrounds and increase their understanding of other perspectives and life experiences.

Write Around gave me some purpose and connection outside myself and family, both as a volunteer and [Prompt] participant…It’s exceptionally moving to witness what happens when folks connect with the capacity in themselves to listen, hold space for someone else’s story and reflect meaning and value back to another writer.

Volunteers experience respectful and meaningful exchanges, which they replicate in their own lives and community.

I remember being struck by how well and generously I was welcomed as a volunteer. I instantly felt welcomed and valuable. I still do. The respect in the mission is in every cell of the organization…I also changed my career because of my experience. Thanks to Write Around Portland—and the hundreds of intrepid souls I’ve had the privilege of writing with through the years—I went back to graduate school and now have a career that I love using narrative as a vehicle for change!

The sharing of stories leads to increased understanding of other perspectives and life experiences, thereby building a more humane, respectful and inclusive world.

I’ve had the privilege of writing with group after group of once-upon-a-time strangers turned allies, who grew to champion themselves and one another through the process of writing and sharing…People see something in themselves they’ve never seen. We need to sit down and listen to each other. That’s the secret to world peace, right?

Thank you, Kellie, and to all our volunteers! We are grateful for your time, energy and commitment to changing lives through the power of writing.

This October, Kellie will be facilitating our inaugural 10-week Prompt Alumni Workshop in partnership with the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC). Learn more here.

Special thank you to Write Around Portland board member Chenoa Philabaum who sat down with Kellie to hear about her experience volunteering with Write Around Portland.


To all our volunteers past and present, we want to celebrate you! Join us for our volunteer party on Thursday, July 25 from 6 to 8 pm.  If you are a former or current volunteer or board member and have not received an email invitation, please email jchu@writearound.org or call our office at 503-796-9224 to RSVP!

If you have volunteered with Write Around Portland and want to share a brief note about how you have been impacted by your experience, please email info@writearound.org with your testimonial.