04/22/2020|Inside Verizon

V Team volunteer spotlight: Michael Woods.

By: Rebecca Nicole Laming

Learn how Michael gives back by watching penguins.

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Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, some use their superpowers to virtually count penguins. During the day, Michael Woods protects our company and customers as Associate General Counsel. When duty calls, he volunteers and advocates for those who need a voice. We doubt he would call himself a hero, but his commitment to giving back is nothing short of admirable.

With COVID-19 forcing many V Teamers to stay home, Michael has used the time to dial up his volunteerism through programs like Zooniverse, and the penguins are undoubtedly grateful.

Like Michael, you can make a difference across our social responsibility pillars: Digital Inclusion, Climate Protection, and Human Prosperity. Check out our Volunteer Portal and select from over 150 virtual activities that contribute to our company-wide goal of 2.5 million volunteer hours by 2025. Now, let's meet Michael.

Q: Tell us about yourself. How long have you been with Verizon?

A: I've been with Verizon for a little more than 10-years, after time at the Justice Department and FBI. I work in the D.C. office, mostly on security-related issues. My principal client is Verizon's Chief Information Security Officer.

Q: What inspired you to sign up for the Volunteer Platform?

A: I participated in the Public Policy, Law & Security (PPLS) pro-bono program for years, and I wanted to see how that work would become part of the new Volunteer Platform. Once I got on the platform, I started to explore opportunities for virtual volunteering, especially now that I am working from home.

Q: What causes or groups have you volunteered for?

A: I volunteer with Ayuda, a Verizon partner organization that provides legal services to low-income immigrants. My clients are immigrants who are victims of domestic violence or human trafficking, and they are applying for special visas in exchange for assisting law enforcement. I also signed up for the virtual penguin watch program through Zooniverse on the Volunteer Platform. It's a program to count and classify penguins photographed by wildlife cameras in Antarctica. This helps scientists who study penguins and also helps develop A.I. tools. Counting penguins turns out to be a strangely calming and hypnotic activity (for me; don't know about the penguins). It's a good, occasional break from everything else.

Q: Why is it important to give back and volunteer during COVID-19?

A: We have it pretty good as Verizon employees right now. We're getting paid, and most of us can keep doing our jobs with a lot of support. That's not the case for many people in our society. My immigration clients, for example, are in a particularly precarious situation. While they are still waiting for visas, a process that can take years, they don't qualify for benefits in the U.S., and many of them work in service industries hard hit by the COVID-19 shutdown. I'm happy to help them.

Q: How important is it to work for a company that actively promotes and encourages volunteer activities?

A: It is important, and I think the scale at which Verizon is doing this is something that sets our company apart. My experience of volunteering has put me in touch with a part of my local community that I would never have encountered otherwise. I'm grateful that this can be a valued part of my work for Verizon.

Q: Do you have a story or specific example of how your volunteer efforts made a difference to an individual or in a community?

A: I just delivered a Green Card–which grants legal permanent residency in the U.S.–to someone in a family that I have worked with almost the entire time I have been at Verizon. The case involved domestic violence and a murder in El Salvador. When I met this family, they were in a very difficult situation with the mother here and the children in El Salvador. All I could do for them was get them started on the long path to legal status in the U.S. Nine years later, they are together and safe here in the U.S., and are doing very well. I am as proud of the work I did with them as I am of anything I have done in my career. Volunteering my time is what led to that experience.

In addition, I have now counted many hundreds of penguins. Someday, I hope to visit them in Antarctica, where I expect to be welcomed as a hero or something.


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