By Kimberly Justen
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James Vossoughi always enjoyed service to others, but before 2013, it wasn’t a passion of his. Then his best friend died in a tragic accident.
“The loss of a dear friend put my life into perspective,” Vossoughi recalls. “I realized life is short, and that I took for granted things that not everyone had—like food on the table, a roof over my head and family and friends who loved me.”
Vossoughi decided he wanted to make a difference in the lives of people around him, but didn’t know the best place to start. Where could he make the greatest difference? Have the most influence? Begin changing lives?
Vossoughi started by trying to improve one life. In 2014, he began volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area. They matched him with a six year-old little brother, Zacary.
Over the years, the pair have done things as simple as taking Vossoughi’s dog to the park—where Zacary started coming out of his shell and talking to other dog owners about their pets—to playing frisbee, football and even sailing. Most recently, they visited James’ brother, who is an engineer in Sacramento. That led Zacary, now 15, to further explore his interest in mechanical engineering after high school.
Vossoughi, who recently welcomed his daughter Leila into the world, learned from Zacary as well. “He knows more about newborns than I do, from growing up with foster siblings,” Vossoughi explains. “He’s going to be Uncle Zacary, and will be a part of my child’s life.”
Zacary and Vossoughi have agreed that they’ll be part of each other’s lives forever. That's probably why Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area named the pair the Big and Little Brother of the Year, an award that is given to the mentoring relationship that helps the little brother achieve their best possible future and also makes a life-long impact on the big brother.
“That was my first foray into volunteering," Vossoughi recalls. “I really wanted something consistent where I could create long term impact.”
Seeing the difference he made for Zacary, Vossoughi realized it didn’t take much to make a big impact in someone’s life. He set out to make a difference in the life of a college student and a senior through two local nonprofits.
One of the nonprofits was designed to provide young learners with the financial resources, education programming, mentorship, and a supportive community to help them and their families to seek out and thrive in higher education and their careers. Paired with John, a college student, Vossoughi helped him manage his classes, prepare his resume and find his way through a maze of major life events. A few years ago, John graduated college, a proud moment for both him and James.
Vossoughi also began working with a nonprofit that specializes in senior living communities and programs. He spent time with two seniors—one who couldn’t leave their home, and another who was confined to their bed—making an emotional connection with them through quality time and conversation.
“Through the three organizations, I got to connect with all age ranges, learn about them and how I can be a friend to them and help them through different experiences in life based on my own experiences," says Vossoughi. "That was what I set out to do.”
By now, Vossoughi had achieved the goal that he set in 2013 and was making a difference in the lives of many people around him. But he realized that his community needed more help. “I’m only one person. I wondered, how I could do more?" he explains. "That’s how I got involved in the Volunteer Leadership Group (VLG) at JPMorgan Chase.”
Volunteerism is an important part of JPMorgan Chase’s culture, but when Vossoughi started working at the bank, there weren’t a lot of company-sponsored volunteer events in the Bay Area. In a busy year there were a handful or so; in a slower year, only one.
And when there were events, volunteers weren’t always showing up. “That affected me,” Vossoughi says. “I knew folks wanted to give back and I knew the community needed it; that’s why I became an active member of the VLG.”
Working through the Bay Area VLG, he saw that the efforts of many individuals could have a huge impact on a community. On a Saturday, one person working alone could build a wall for a home or pick up a bag of litter. But when a group of volunteers got together, they could build part of a house through Habitat for Humanity or clear mattresses, tires, and abandoned furniture from a future affordable housing site through a creek cleanup.
The VLG provides employees the opportunity to connect with colleagues and make a difference across a variety of causes without overcommitting their time.
“Most of the volunteer activities are one-time events, which allow me to pursue my passion, as well as help others find their passion for the community, which was always important to me,” Vossoughi says. “This is how I can strengthen the impact, by bringing people together to make bigger change happen.”
As word-of-mouth picked up, soon the events were in high demand. In 2019, the group’s activity peaked at 82 events, with more than 4,200 total hours volunteered.
“We’ve created a sense of community for volunteers at JPMorgan Chase by building a group that benefits a lot of different local organizations," Vossoughi explains. “And because of this service to the community our employees take more pride in the organization they work for.”
Vossoughi is now the group's executive sponsor. “I no longer need to organize the same amount of events as I used to because we have so many folks stepping up," he says. "My colleagues associate me with service to the community and that’s something I’m very proud of.”
Vossoughi’s community involvement also became part of his day job. In 2013, he joined JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking’s Community Development Banking team, where he works on a team that provides financing for affordable housing for low-income community members, including veterans, the unhoused, seniors and families among others.
“Housing is something I’ve always been passionate about, whether it’s through financing, physically being a part of the construction of a project through an organization like Habitat for Humanity, or helping build planter beds later on," Vossoughi says. "My title may be Banker, but if I’m not seen as a partner to the organizations I’m working with, then I’m not doing enough.”
The message at JPMorgan Chase is clear: Employees want to be there for their communities in ways both big and small. “We’re here to be a true partner," Vossoughi says. "We’re here to support you with financing, but also with volunteers. We’re not just your bankers; we’re also your neighbors focused on doing everything we can to provide for our communities.”
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