For every stereotype out there that New Yorkers are mean, callous, and always in a rush, I know that there is a passionate, generous group of New Yorkers, who have had a profound impact on my life and continue to provide unquestionable value for which I am grateful: the volunteers from New York Cares.
As a life-long opera fan and consummate “foodie,” I launched my latest entrepreneurial venture, OperaNuts, in 2012. After months of experimentation, usually on a Saturday afternoon as I listened to the Metropolitan Opera on WQXR (something that I have done almost all of my adult life), I honed my inaugural product. A sweet/savory confection of premier roasted California almonds, rich dark chocolate covered almonds in a secret sea salt sauce was born and, after receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from friends and family, I decided to pursue my passion as a business venture.
Yet in an undeniably digital world, I was at an impasse as to how best to move forward with my dream. While able to utilize computers for basic functions, I acknowledged that technologies had changed dramatically since retiring from my career in fashion marketing and journalism. The prospect of launching my business in an internet age was daunting at best.
The one-on-one tutoring program of New York Cares that has taken place in the New York Public Library’s 67th Street branch was the solution. For the past five years, each Thursday afternoon, I have been tutored by more experienced younger folks who volunteer their time to help those of us “scared” of computers (only at first!) to eventually become a friend of technology.
Volunteers began to ease me into a warm relationship with the computer, and into the tech world, advising me that a website was a prerequisite for success in our connected society. The result of many sessions with one volunteer, Hannah, is the OperaNuts Word Press website you see when visiting OperaNuts.com.
Along the way, I have also developed meaningful and long-lasting friendships with my volunteers. They have become both mentors and friends and a few are now employees of the OperaNuts team. Suggesting that I utilize MailChimp to create aesthetically pleasing email campaigns and spread the word about OperaNuts, volunteers Eileen and Emma went one step further, helping me to create and write engaging content for my email newsletters.
Of course, these good deeds have not gone unrewarded – oh no! I have given many containers of OperaNuts to all of my tutors, managers, and the library staff. I will, of course, continue to reward those dear volunteers who give their time to help people like me. I have also seen the invaluable support that they provide to peers in these groups, patiently and gently guiding individuals to whom use of a computer is not instinctive. From helping class attendees see pictures of their grandchildren on Facebook for the first time, conduct research on the web, apply for a job, or accomplish an everyday administration task for which a computer is seemingly vital these days, these seemingly small acts of kindness have provided enormous value to their recipients.
The bonds that I have developed with each of these volunteers extends far beyond the confines of the 67th Street New York Public Library, as evidenced by the fact that I can always expect to see a friendly face when OperaNuts participates in regular Williams-Sonoma Artisans’ Markets. Each time I attend to sell my products, I receive surprise visits and words of encouragement from my New York Cares friends, who live in different corners of the City – and I remind them that I simply couldn’t have done it without them.
I have learned a lot from my computer classes these last five years, and not just about technology – I’ve learned that, far from the stereotype, New York is full of warm-hearted, caring people who are willing to go the extra mile for you.
Rachel Roth is a serial entrepreneur and proud owner of OperaNuts.