Meet our volunteer: MJ Alves

August 8, 2019

Canal Alliance Volunteer: MJ Alves

In his own words, MJ Alves details why he volunteers his time with Canal Alliance, how he connects to our mission and the impact that volunteering has had on his life. MJ has been a volunteer with Canal Alliance for 5 years.

Michael Joseph (MJ) Alves is a recent UC Berkeley (And College of Marin!) graduate who studied Environmental Policy & Population Studies. He volunteers with Canal Alliance to help other people find a voice and be heard both literally and figuratively. The work he does at Canal Alliance aligns with his passions in teaching, research and community outreach. 

He is the youngest person to become an ESL Teacher at Canal Alliance and has been involved with the program since becoming an ESL Teacher at 18. With heritage from countries such as Panama, Ireland, and Mexico, MJ understands the importance English education plays in overcoming economic and social disadvantage. A key part of Canal Alliance’s mission is providing the people of Canal resources, and English is perhaps the most important resources as it is a gateway and a stepping stone for many more. 

After graduating in the spring, MJ was eager to apply the skills he learned from his Demography minor to the Census 2020 project. He is currently working with Stephanie McNally to research hard to count characteristics of census tracts and block groups in all of Marin County, estimate populations in key categories, construct profiles of both tracts and characteristics, and to build financial models of how important the Census is to both Canal Alliance and the Canal. 

Despite being a teacher, volunteering with Canal Alliance has also taught him a lot. MJ has learned how to become a better teacher, 20 new words in Quiche, and that for each person who doesn’t fill out the Census, $1,000 of potential funding is lost. He has also learned that being able to speak English or be able to learn a new language in a high school or university setting is a huge privilege. Working with the Census has also changed his perspective of what it means to be socially disadvantaged, as he has researched how living in a multi-unit complex or being over the age of 65 can greatly impact your chances and ability to make yourself heard and make yourself count, literally. 

MJ is most proud of knowing that his teaching has improved the lives of many students, and has allowed them to use English as a tool to achieve economic and social success in the workplace and in their community. His favorite part about volunteering for Canal Alliance is that he still regularly runs into former students in other classes or even in the streets. It is amazing to see a student who he remembers knowing very little English or Spanish, and then three years later getting to converse with them in English like old friends. 

He hopes to gain many more meaningful experiences and moments as he continues to work with the Census 2020 project and teaching ESL. 

Gracias, MJ, for all that you do for our community. To support the work that MJ is doing at Canal Alliance, you can make a donation to his fundraising campaign at donate.canalalliance.org/mj

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