One of the activities at yesterday’s Destination AmeriCorps event was speed networking. That’s right, just like speed dating but with less awkward silences and more business cards. It was facilitated by one Sarah, the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at the Ulman Cancer fund for Young Adults and was, in my humble opinion, a smashing success. There were two rows of chairs facing each other, and piece of flip chart paper with four questions, and a cowbell. We had four minutes per round (with the ever-present Volunteer Maryland training cowbell to signify the end of each round), and were asked to tell each other why we joined AmeriCorps, our favorite memory, what project we’re currently working on and… something else. To be honest, the four minutes flew by and I don’t think I got past the second question with anyone.
The most difficult question for me to answer was favorite memory as an AmeriCorps member, both because there have been so many amazingly great memories and because some of my favorite moments have been low-key and can’t be easily crafted as a story. Many of my greatest “this is why I love my job” moments have come from member visits.
My primary role as a VISTA Leader is to be a supportive peer, and I attempt to accomplish that largely through member visits- an informal one-on-one conversation with each member at or near their site. Sure, I can keep tabs of each person to some extent via monthly reports and in fact that’s when I tend to be in awe of the amount of sheer work and productivity they’re providing. Actually getting out there in the field and having a conversation, however, is a tremendous help in knowing who each person is and how their year is progressing. While we get together for trainings and meetings and occasionally even social activities, member visits are how I feel connected to these amazing people doing all of this great work.
I often meet members over coffee (although if anyone has a better idea of where two people can talk for an hour or so, let me know! The caffeine consumption has gotten out of control.) and with no real agenda. If there have been clear problems I’ll certainly ask to address them and I’ll ask about recent events, but otherwise it’s just a time to, well, talk. Conversations have run the gamut from how to “manage up” when dealing with difficult coworkers to the humbling moments that seem to come about while working at a nonprofit and how making near-poverty wages changes our perception of what’s actually needed in life. We’ve discussed road trips, favorite philosophers, the joys of drumming at church on weekends and how AmeriCorps has provided an amazing crash course to working in nonprofits. I honestly feel privileged to be working with such a passionate and motivated group who have accomplished so much and have had such diverse and interesting experience under their belts.
So maybe I was cheating a bit yesterday, and an ongoing series of unique events isn’t exactly a memory at all. But hey, with so many unique moments with so many astounding people, who can choose just one?