Welcome back to the Angel’s Wish monthly volunteer profile. Starting with our Board of Directors, each month, we aim to feature one of the wonderful people who makes Angel’s Wish successful. Last month, we learned more about Holly Tang, volunteer, foster, Board member, and CVT. This month, we turn our attention to Alyssa Pon-Franklin, volunteer, foster, Board secretary & volunteer liaison.
The heart of any organization is its people. The people determine the culture, the atmosphere, and the reputation of the organization. For Angel’s Wish, those people are our volunteers who dedicate their time and energy to doing everything from arranging adoptions to cleaning out litter boxes to entering donations into our computer system. The person most involved with their experiences as volunteers—ensuring they feel welcome, values, and supported—is Alyssa Pon-Franklin, volunteer liaison to the Board of Directors. Alyssa has also lent her many talents to a number of other areas of Angel’s Wish.
“I started out as an adoption room volunteer, something I still enjoy doing,” she said, referring to the volunteers who assist potential adopters in meeting cats. “I overheard Judy [Wahr, another volunteer] talking about a need for cashiers, and I asked if I could be trained. I then started cashiering/contract processing.”
Pet ownership and animal welfare have always been a large part of Alyssa’s life. She explained: “My parents have been vegetarians for longer than I’ve been alive. … They instilled in me the value of animal lives. We have always rescued cats, and supported organizations that helped with animal welfare.” At one point, Alyssa recalls, her family was blessed with six cats in her childhood home due to rescuing five of them from her aunt’s backyard.
Alyssa wasn’t sure she was ready for her own feline friend when first moved to Madison. Missing her cat companions and knowing the positive effects these furry friends have on her mental health, Alyssa found Angel’s Wish online. She was drawn to Angel’s Wish because it is foster-based; cats don’t stay at the center for long periods of time. “I’ve also always been somebody that really values giving my time back to the community,” she added. “Angel’s Wish allows me to have a variety of positions, and I appreciate having multiple areas to participate in.”
Alyssa’s education also reflected multiple areas of interest and different paths—a common experience for those her age. “I was almost a theatre major (stage management), but realized that it was a passion that I wanted to keep as a hobby instead of a career,” she said. She turned to Spanish and Psychology for her undergraduate degree and spent the first few years out of college working in mental health care. She then worked toward and received a Masters degree in educational psychology from UW-Milwaukee.
She jumped at the opportunity to return to Madison and worked as a school counselor. A recent job switch took her to higher education, working as an academic advisor at UW-Madison. “My current job…allows me to work with undecided students on campus, helping them discover their interests, explore various majors, and learn how to navigate UW.” Her ability to keep herself organized has helped in the many moves and career changes. “…I’m organized, and definitely logical. Although my brain is a lot less organized than my spreadsheets,” she joked.
Alyssa started volunteering in September 2016, and as she continued, she noticed there was an important person missing from the Board of Directors. “We needed one singular person to be the contact person for volunteer concerns,” she remembered. “We also needed someone looking at what is covered in training, how we are appreciating volunteers, and how to help with volunteer retention.” Since creating the position, Alyssa has worked on developing the volunteer Code of Conduct, making sure Angel’s Wish is a safe and welcoming space for everyone. She’s the point person for youth volunteers and as well as the go-to person for “any volunteer who has a concern they’d like addressed or brought to the board,” she explained.
Her favorite part of being volunteer liaison? “The volunteer picnic has been my favorite project to organize so far,” she told us. “It was a great opportunity to celebrate all of the people that make Angel’s Wish happen.” Her other favorite part of volunteering at Angel’s Wish is the busy Saturdays, when, as front desk staff, there’s always something to do. And, of course: “I love seeing cats go home to their new families.”
When she was able to move out of her apartment and into her own home, Alyssa added “foster parent” to her list of positions at Angel’s Wish. She fostered a few litters and one of her “foster fails” (a foster cat that the foster parent ends up adopting) Lily became a permanent member of her household.
She took a break for fostering after that, but recently returned when a call went out to Angel’s Wish volunteers for foster homes to take in the 20+ kittens in a recent intake. She explained: “The amount of energy I have ebbs and flows depending on the season…[Fostering is] not always my cup of tea, but I learned about the need and wanted to help.”
Though she loves watching the kittens grow and develop personalities, and “they provide me with so many daily laughs,” she cautions that fostering isn’t always kitten snuggles and playing with toys. “The hardest thing is when they’re not feeling well,” she said. Among the lessons she’s learned that she would like to pass on to future fosters: trust your instincts when you think something’s wrong, rely on your foster coordinator, and even though it’s a large time commitment–larger than you’d think–it’s incredibly rewarding.
Though it seems like her life is full enough, Alyssa finds time for even more. “I’ve always been somebody that has difficulty when I have too much free time,” she said with a laugh. In addition to Lily, she has a cat named Jax who was adopted from Angel’s Wish “when my Lilabug wouldn’t stop playing with my toes at night.” Still an avid-theatre lover, Alyssa likes to participate behind the scenes and attend local shows (in non-COVID times). She likes to read a wide variety of novels and spend time with her partner exploring state parks, painting, and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She is also a Tai Chi enthusiast, loves to travel, and stresses the importance of destigmatizing mental health issues. “My mental health has played a large role in my life,” Alyssa said. “It’s important to talk about.”
Among all of this, Alyssa keeps her eye on the future of Angel’s Wish. “I liked the idea of being part of the decision-making process for this organization that I had come to love,” she said about her decision to apply to join the Board of Directors after two years of volunteering. Never one to sit still for long, she hopes that volunteer retention and volunteer morale are two of the areas she can tackle when the Angel’s Wish Center re-opens.
Another area Alyssa would love to focus on is volunteer recruitment. “We are very flexible with the time commitment, so I think it can be a great opportunity for people who want to give back but can’t always commit to a specific schedule,” she explained. Angel’s Wish offers a variety of opportunities and projects “that are short-term, long-term, and everything in between, so it can be flexible,” she added. “When you work at the center on a weekend, you get to see cats go home. You get to see the direct effects of your work on a regular basis.”
An introvert at heart, Alyssa’s desire to be involved and give back to her community has led her to a number of opportunities at Angel’s Wish. She has not let challenges and road bumps stand in her way; rather, she’s used her language and communication skills, her experiences as a mental health care provider and with her own struggles with anxiety and depression, and her large heart to improve the volunteer experience at Angel’s Wish and continue helping the organization move forward. “The board has built up a really great organization over the past 20 years, and I would like it to continue improving,” Alyssa said. We’re sure she will.