Meet a PORCH Volunteer: Chelsey Onuoha

A freshman at East Chapel Hill High School, Chelsey Onuoha was first introduced to PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro by her Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate mentor in August of 2021. Kristine Castellano has been Chelsey’s mentor for five years and thought the food-sorting volunteer opportunity would be a great fit. The Blue Ribbon Mentor program pairs Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools students with mentors who can provide cultural enrichment, college and career preparation, and leadership development skills. 

“I was shocked when she said she didn’t need me to go to the second [food] sort – she was going to do it,” Kristine says. “And away she went. And has done so every month since. And she also used her voice and encouraged the organizers to post the electronic sign-up list [for after school hours] so kids would have the opportunity to sign up.” 

“When Chelsey arrived at our first sort, she was very shy and soft-spoken,” says PORCH’s Laura Malinchock. “But we have seen Chelsey blossom during the past six months into a confident PORCH volunteer who is now our curbside greeter on Sundays at Extraordinary Ventures!” 

Read on to learn more about 15-year-old Chelsey – we are so happy she is part of the PORCH community! 

What made you decide to become a PORCH volunteer?
Before my freshman year of high school, I struggled with communicating in social situations. My mentor first introduced me to PORCH as one way to both help me overcome this challenge and give back to my community. She joined me in my first food sorting a few weeks before the 2021-2022 school year began, and I have been attending monthly since! At first, I was a little nervous, as I struggled with communicating in group settings for a long time but was quick to realize that the fellow PORCH volunteers were very friendly and welcoming. It has been a great experience to help me be impactful in my community and work through my social anxiety. 

What is your favorite part of the work you do with PORCH? 
My favorite part of volunteering for PORCH is being able to meet and get to know the neighborhood coordinators and fellow volunteers. My position as a greeter has allowed me to connect with people from different age groups and cultural backgrounds. These interactions over time have improved my communication and leadership skills, and I feel part of a larger community. PORCH has led me to start naturally taking initiative and to become more proactive in group settings, skills of which can transfer to all aspects of my life. 

What would you say to someone thinking about getting involved with PORCH? 
From personal experience, I would say that the volunteers are very friendly – and not to be afraid to do so. One issue I struggled with in the beginning was starting and continuing conversations, especially with those I do not know. This was a major factor that made me hesitant to become a PORCH volunteer, as I was afraid of being judged.  

After reading PORCH’s mission statement, I decided that thoughts like those are ones that do not benefit anyone. I am grateful for going outside of my comfort zone and volunteering for the organization. It has allowed me to help those who are less fortunate than me in my own community and gives me a sense of pride.

Why do you think PORCH’s mission is so critical? 
PORCH is a small, grassroots organization whose goal is to provide hunger relief for families, pantries, and schools who are in need. I think this is important because it recognizes – and takes action upon – important issues within my community, something that I see value in as it provides all sorts of individuals an opportunity to meet, connect, and better themselves and each other. 

Do you have any tips/tricks you can offer to help others be more effective PORCH volunteers? 
If you’re confused about anything, do not hesitate to ask for help. Fellow volunteers would be more than happy to assist you with any questions or problems that may arise, especially if you are new to the organization.

Can you offer a little personal/biographical information? 
When I was 2 years old, my family immigrated from Nigeria to the United States for access to better resources and education. Moving to such a diverse community as Chapel Hill provided me with many opportunities and experiences for which I am grateful. My main hobbies outside of school are researching skin care, learning about the French language and different cultures around the world, and baking/cooking new recipes.