In a Nutshell
If you've spent any amount of time in Shanghai, you've probably heard of Community Center Shanghai (CSS), or one of their charity organizations such as River of Hearts, or been to one of their social events. But who are they? And what exactly do they do? Executive Director Zhen Zeng-Liao laughs when I ask her the question.
Basically, they do everything. From running summer camps to providing mental health counseling, Community Center Shanghai operates as a not-for-profit organization that works to connect the expat community and fulfill its needs. They primarily cater to the traditional 2+2 family, but they've begun to shift towards young people, Chinese returnees, and other groups as Shanghai's expat population changes.
Community Center Shanghai was founded in 1998 by a few expat families in partnership with Concordia International School. At that time, the expat community wasn't very sizable, especially in Pudong. The organization has since grown to cover four locations -- Pudong, Hongqiao, Minhang, and Xuhui -- serving over 10,000 families.
The organization is funded through sponsors, gala fundraisers, sales of donated items, and the classes they run. Currently, they have 22 paid staff, plus volunteers, and a board of directors consisting of older members and former executive directors that work pro bono.
CCS runs three charity programs: Charity LINK, River of Hearts, and Giving Tree. Charity LINK connects volunteers with charities around town through workshops and networking events. River of Hearts takes items donated throughout the year, organizes them, and ships those that are usable to poor remote villages in Yunan, Gansu, Tibet, and Sichuan. Each sorting party, held three times a year, brings together 200 local and foreign volunteers to organize the donated items before they are shipped off to the rural communities.
Their third charity, the Giving Tree is an extremely successful program that supports migrant children in and around Shanghai. The program gets businesses and individuals to sponsor gift bags containing winter clothes, one toy, and one school supply item for migrant children in and around Shanghai. Each year, over 11,000 migrant children receive gift bags, and last year, the program reached 100,000 children since it began.
Shanghai 123 is a free orientation offered 12 times a year to new arrivals in the city. The orientation brings newcomers up to speed by providing information on health care, schools, culture shock, food safety, transportation, phones, and more.
CSS runs several classes for the international community. These include Chinese and English-language learning, arts, personal development, cooking, fitness, summer camp, and much more. Classes are held in their centers around the city. Their Pudong branch, for example, has classrooms, a fitness studio, and a kitchen. Classes cost money, but are generally cheaper than equivalent classes elsewhere at private culture centers.
Community Center Shanghai offers counseling services from licensed practitioners (in their home countries) at a discounted rate. They work in the areas of depression, cultural transitioning, family and spousal relationships, and addictions. For those who truly cannot afford the service, they offer the counseling for free, paid for through their own budget.
How You Can Get Involved
There are several avenues to be a part of Community Center Shanghai. You can work full time as paid staff. Check out their jobs board to see what positions are currently open.
For those less experienced or only available part-time, you can volunteer or intern with them, working in the areas of event planning, admin, charity work, operations, graphic design, marketing, and more.
Another option is to start your own program. Community Center is always on the look out for people with initiative that want to bring their skills to the international community. Currently, they are working with a high schooler who's starting his own organization called "Just Friends, Real Fun" that promotes fun activities for teenagers that don't involve drugs or alcohol. CCS can offer you resources, help you write proposals, and put you in touch with sponsors.
Whether you want to get involved with charity work, learn a new skill, or bring something new into the international community, Community Center Shanghai is a great place to get started.